Growth versus Fixed Mindset: Which Do You Have?
Dr. Carol Dweck, in her 2006 book Mindset, set out to uncover why some people grow intellectually and professionally while others are okay with the status quo. She found that it wasn’t because those who were satisfied with the status quo thought they were awesome—well, kind of. Growth mindset occurs when a person is learning oriented, desires mastery devours feedback and seeks encouragement for effort. A person with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, is concerned with performance goals, wants favorable judgments from others and prefers the status quo. Dweck explains that a person’s mindset is not entirely on the growth side or fixed, but rather on a continuum, based on the context and situation.
For example, someone may desire to be an elite triathlete and so will spend a lot of time learning about the nuances of the sport will welcome feedback and will continually assess their performance. For all things related to their athletic prowess, that person is growth focused. However, in a workplace setting, they may feel as they have the right (and unassailable) job-specific skills and so will get defensive when colleagues provide feedback or will measure their work performance against the achievements of their colleagues and fret about their legacy.
So how do you know which side you fall on? Dweck spent twenty-plus years investigating growth and fixed mindset and has come up with a series of questions to ask yourself. Take a minute and reflect on a recent challenge that you faced and the reaction you had during the challenge, and answer the following:
- Did you feel overly anxious? Did a voice in your head put up roadblocks that prevented you from conquering the challenge?
- When you faced a setback in your career, did you feel incompetent or defeated? Did you look for an excuse for the failure?
- What was your response the last time you received feedback at work or home? Did you become defensive, angry or feel defeated, instead of interested in learning from the feedback?
- What happens when you see a colleague who’s better than you excelling at a task you value? Do you feel envious and threatened, or do you feel eager to learn?
If your responses skewed to looking to appoint blame or find excuses rather than look for an opportunity to learn, then you are likely stuck in a fixed mindset.
Think about the leaders in your organization or other leaders you have met or even reported to. Those with a fixed mindset will claim successes even though they were part of a team effort. They go out of their way to make sure that those around them know who produced the solution. They tend to have big egos and believe they are better than many of their peers and aren’t shy about saying so to their direct reports. Many leaders who have a fixed mindset mask their insecurities with boastfulness, place blame on others for the failure and stifle their critics. If the fixed mindset leader is at a senior level in the organization, they can be abusive and controlling, and this ends up permeating the whole organization. The result is a fixed mindset company that will struggle to adapt and grow.
Leaders with a growth mindset believe that learning and experiences can impact a person’s behavior by fostering development. Leaders with a growth mindset want to own their failures. If the failures are their responsibility, they put them on display for others to learn from. They use these moments to create micro-growth mindset moments. These leaders never claim others’ successes, and they spend time listening to, crediting and nurturing their colleagues. Finally, leaders that have a growth mindset provide honest feedback, believe that teams create success, and believe in their own and their team’s professional and personal development.
Do You Practice a Growth Mindset?
Everyone has aspects of themselves that are growth mindset and fixed mindset focused. The difficulty for leaders arises when a fixed mindset falls in their blind spot. Carol Dweck provides a number of strategies to develop a growth mindset. These suggestions have an overarching aim to open a mindset to higher self-awareness, more compassion, clearer integrity and a heightened drive to be relatable.
- Track your success. At the end of each week, take time to write down all your successes, no matter how big or how small. For example, you might have won a big client, worked out a number of times or simply given someone your undivided attention. Acknowledging your success allows you to appreciate the journey, again, no matter how big or how small.
- Study your failures. Now that you have taken time to celebrate your successes, it is important to gain insight into your failures. No need to nitpick all failures during the week—that’s counterproductive. Select one or two that are fresh in your mind and list all the reasons for them. Be careful not to list justifications, but honest reasons as to why a failure happened. Typically, justifications place blame on someone or something for the failure.
- Reflect on your goals. Take time to reflect on your goals. Often goals are written down and tucked away somewhere to be forgotten. Instead, go back to your set goals, investigate, reflect on them and ask yourself, “What do I need to do to stay on track?” There is something very empowering about accomplishing a set goal.
- Confront the problem. Think of something you need to do or a problem you want to confront. This can be personal or professional, but take time to make a conscious plan to follow. The more details, the better, the more steps, the better. Be vivid in your description.
So go out this week and investigate your patterns. Are you focused on the art of justification or the art of exploration? What are your growth areas and what are your fixed areas? Can the fixed be nudged into growth?
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Incorporated.