Mindset: Fixed vs. Growth

The research of psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck describes two kinds of mindsets: fixed and growth, which she documents in her book, "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" . These two ways of thinking about one’s own intelligence and capability have a tremendous impact on how much an individual is able to learn and how they respond to failure.

A fixed mindset sees intellect as a limited, innate quantity. A person believes they were born with a certain amount of capability, and once they reach that capacity, they will be limited in how much more they can learn or accomplish. Individuals with a fixed mindset tend to respond poorly to failure, as it means their finite intelligence or capacity has been proven faulty or insufficient. Since this limitation seems impossible to overcome, the individual wants to appear as smart as possible even when the circumstances indicate otherwise.

A growth mindset sees intellect as an ever-expandable resource that rather than being devalued by failure is instead bolstered by it. Discovering a hole in one’s abilities is an opportunity to learn and develop greater capacity and skill. An individual with this mindset is not afraid to seem like they don’t know all the answers, because they expect to continue learning and developing through their experiences.

Your mindset about your team

Which type of mindset do you have about yourself? Do you need to look good even when you lack expertise or have made a mistake, or is it okay for you to be wrong and to change your mind? Do your team members feel psychologically safe because you exhibit this kind of vulnerability as a leader?

As a corollary, what mindset do you have about your team members? If you have an under-performer on your team, do you tend to believe there are certain things that are forever beyond their capability, or do you think they have the capacity to improve with enough work, motivation, and training? Is your most valuable contributor so good because they are inherently smart or because they invest a lot in developing their skills? When rewarding good results, do you notice and value intellect or hard work?

None of the above are necessarily correct or best, but it’s worthwhile to recognize your own biases and perceptions of others and how you might project those onto their performance. People thrive when they are challenged and encouraged, and you can facilitate that by expecting and providing for their growth.