“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” – Benjamin Franklin
Learning is understood and widely accepted for those of us who have gone through primary and collegiate schooling. We were regularly surrounded by individuals who encouraged and supported our development. New ideas and change were expected of us; the sky was the limit! But what about once we started working? For many, we settled into the day-to-day routine, taking care of business, unaware of the toll that our comfortable, monotonous, uninterrupted tasks seemed to be having on our personal and professional growth.
Do you hear yourself saying “I don’t get how this project management tool works.” or “I’m bad at giving presentations. Can someone else do it?”. If so, re-evaluation of your mindset might be in order. You are working under what is called a “fixed mindset”. According to a research study by Carol Dweck of Stanford University, a fixed mindset is when people believe qualities are fixed traits that cannot change. These people document skills rather than working to develop them.
Alternatively, a growth mindset is a belief that intelligence can grow with time and experience. When people believe they can contribute to their learning, they realize effort has an effect on their success.
You can work to combat a fixed mindset and encourage a healthy growth mindset by practicing the following:
Identify Fixed Mindset Patterns – First, are you able to accurately identify and root out the bad habits resulting from a fixed mindset? Common behaviors of these types of people include avoiding challenges, giving up easily, seeing efforts as accomplishing nothing, ignoring and avoiding negative feedback, lacking direction in goals, and acting out when feeling threatened by others who achieve success. These are common signs that you are struggling to see your part in nurturing new development.
Pinpoint Skills and Limitations – Take time aside from your regular routine to pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses. This will provide a clear starting point for you in knowing where gaps exist. Take a strength-finder assessment and review the results with a trusted mentor or advisor. You might feel threatened and defensive when going over weaknesses, but having a straightforward conversation on the diagnosis will lead to better prognosis and healing.
Redirect “Fails” into “Needs Improvement” – Landing on pass/fails for projects and tasks is a natural breeding ground for fixed mindset. Dweck explains when a high school replaced failing grades with “Not Yet”, their students saw a massive improvement in taking control of improving their grades. Your business can adopt similar mentalities by encouraging employees (or yourself) to improve on the end-results of projects instead of saying they/you failed the task.
Encourage Feedback Over Praise – Praise feels good. We like to feel validated in our strengths and are content to leave it alone when we receive praise over accomplished work. Instead, ask for feedback despite the outcome. There is always a way to improve and develop. Seek ways to also lead your team to ask for tips and creative ways in which they can approach new scenarios.
Set Smart Goals – We commonly think of goals like, “I want to hit 15% increase in my KPI”. While this seems fair, it fails to address what happens if the goal is not met. Instead, set goals that are more learning driven. “ I want to learn how to use and better enhance this project management tool” or “I want to better improve my communication by taking opportunities for public speaking” are excellent examples of developmentally-driven goals. If performance-based goals are a must in your industry, take time to input smaller skill-based action goals so you are being developed while striving to hit the bigger goal.
Place Yourself in Challenging Situations – We naturally lean towards handing work off to individuals who are naturally suited for the work. While this is an effective way of getting work done, it limits your growth. If you lack a necessary skill for a specific task, seek the opportunity to work alongside those who are already experts. Give yourself plenty of room to practice, and yes, fail. When you fail, get back up and try again. One of the biggest inhibitors of a growth mindset are people who constantly put their themselves down. Be part of the solution, not the problem.
Seek Learning Opportunities – Seek to enhance growth by going after paid degrees or programs through local universities, local workshop sessions, and skill-based conferences. By taking part in these opportunities, you are showing that you value growth and development. Learn to better yourself as a teacher so that you can better equip others to take on leadership. As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”