Stanford University professor Carol Dweck and colleagues have spent decades studying the distinct ways in which individuals view intelligence and learning, most recently expanding this research to how students view pursuing a passion. Her research has profound implications for the work environment and how leaders foster a mindset among their teams that drives learning, growth and innovation.
In Dweck’s research, there are two primary ways in which individuals approach intelligence and learning: with a fixed mindset or with a growth mindset. The fixed-mindset perspective is one in which individuals believe that they are born with a certain level of intelligence and talent, and that level will not shift over their lifetime. As a result, they tend to believe that things for which they have skills should come easily to them, with little effort required for success. In fact, failure is deemed as an event which calls into question their true intelligence, resulting in these individuals experiencing significant struggle with setbacks or mistakes.
Conversely, those who adopt a growth mindset believe that intelligence, skills and passions can be developed over time. They seek opportunities to be challenged, to stretch beyond their expected capacity, to take risks, to learn and to gain insight from their mistakes. When it comes to learning and skill development, the growth mindset mantra is “Bring it on!”
From a business perspective, the advantages of a growth mindset culture are evident in Dweck’s research. She found that in companies with such cultures, leaders viewed their employees as “more innovative, collaborative, and committed to learning and growing.”
On the whole, these leaders were more likely to view their employees as having management potential than were leaders in fixed-mindset companies. Likewise, employees in growth-mindset companies demonstrated positive views of their organization and their work colleagues. According to Dweck, they are also less afraid of failure.
As leaders, developing a culture of learning and innovation may be the key factor that allows your organization to outdistance the competition. Nurturing a growth mindset among your team is one important way to support such a culture.
Here are four leadership actions you can take to do so:
Place a high value on learning
As an HR executive, I noticed time and again that, when budgets were tight, funding for training and education was the first to be cut. True growth-mindset companies view learning as their life blood. Take it seriously by funding your employees’ development, and view that funding as a contribution to the company’s future success.
By investing in programs that develop new skills or offer new experiences, you fuel the intellectual curiosity of your team and promote innovation. And, when you cultivate the abilities of those on your team, you foster engagement, motivation and productivity.
Admit when failures occur, and capitalize on them
Growth-mindset leaders view failure as a part of the journey from success to significance. They don’t sweep failure under the rug; instead they embrace it. Spend time with your employees debriefing what is going well and what isn’t during the course of a project, as well as when it’s finished.
Ask people what they learned about the business and what they learned about themselves during the process? Where might they source support and insight next time? What did they learn that they might apply to another objective?
And remember, rewarding effort as well as outcomes is critical if you want your team to be willing to take prudent risks. As an added bonus, employees behave more ethically in organizations that place a premium on learning from both successes and failures.
Develop as many people as you can
Employees in fixed-mindset companies often describe the opportunities for success and recognition as being limited to “a few rising stars.” The opposite is true in growth-mindset organizations, where leaders work to develop their entire team, not just a chosen few. What results is deep bench strength across the organization. Leaders who recognize that great ideas come from everywhere work to expand the diversity of talent and thought necessary for solving tough problems. They create teams that are built for success.
Stay open to feedback
The largest roadblock to growth and innovation is a leader who is closed to receiving feedback. A growth mindset begins with you, as does the recognition that you don’t have the market cornered on good ideas. Staying open to feedback invites others to be truthful with you about what is going well and especially, what isn’t.
This mindset allows others to feel free to come forward with ideas as well as questions, and encourages them to readily embrace feedback from others. Perhaps most importantly, when your team feels free to share with you, it positions you to pre-empt failures or mistakes before their impact becomes severe.
Leveraging a growth mindset offers you and your organization significant opportunity for innovation and success. Can you really afford to build a culture without one?
Alaina Love is chief operating officer and president of Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (McGraw-Hill). She is a recovering HR executive, a global speaker and leadership expert, and passionate about everything having to do with, well … passion. Her passion archetypes are Builder, Transformer and Healer. You can learn more about how to grow leaders, build passionate teams and leverage passion to create great customer outcomes here.
When she’s not working with her Fortune 500 client base, Love is busy writing her next book, “Passionality, The Art and Science of Finding Your Passion and Living Your Bliss,” which explores the alignment of personality, purpose and passion, and the science of how it contributes to our well being. Follow Love on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or her blog.
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