According to Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, there are two predominant mindsets. Some people have a fixed mindset (what some academics call entity theorists). They think what gets them ahead in life are their innate abilities, intelligence, talents and hard work. They must constantly prove themselves to others. They want to look smart. They are motivated by extrinsic motives (external rewards, approval from others, wanting to look good in front of others or wanting to prove they are better than others). They also have a fear of failure because failure says something negative about their abilities.
Others have a growth mindset (what some academics call incremental theorists). They think their abilities can be developed through learning, training and persistence. They believe they can improve from their own failures. They want to learn because it’s fun, engaging, intrinsically pleasing and challenging.
The research of Dweck and others clearly demonstrates the positive effects of a growth mindset in parenting, school and relationships. And regardless of leadership experience, their research provides evidence that leaders with a growth mindset are much better off than leaders with a fixed mindset.
In one study, Peter Heslin, Don Vandewalle and Gary Latham focused only on managers with a fixed mindset. They purposefully split fixed-mindset managers into two groups, each taking a 90-minute workshop. The formats of the workshops were nearly identical, with one critical difference:
• One group’s 90-minute workshop emphasized the fact that people have multiple abilities, and in some areas they are strong, whereas in other areas, they are weak.
• The other group’s 90-minute workshop focused specifically on adopting a growth mindset through “self-persuasion.” In that workshop, managers tried to talk themselves into adopting a growth mindset — in other words, flipping their mindset.
So what happened? The fixed-mindset managers who attended the “self-persuasion” training were more willing to provide coaching and had higher quantity and quality of performance-improvement suggestions. These changes were not seen in the fixed-mindset managers who attended the other workshop.
If you think you have a fixed mindset, the research offers you hope. If given the proper time, energy and support you can flip your mindset.
What You Can Do to Flip Your Mindset
The one big thing you can do to flip your mindset is to practice “mindchatter”: talk to yourself differently. Mindchatter is that inner dialogue we have providing us opinions and evaluations on how well (or not so well) we are at doing things. It’s the play-by-play commentary. It’s the positive, optimistic and validating chatter we hear when we do something right. It’s also the critical, harsh, crippling, destructive chatter we hear when we aren’t at our best and are struggling.
We all face doubt and uncertainty. We all have times when the voices in our head say something like, “I’ve never been a boss before. Can I do it?” Or, “I’ve never failed at anything. What happens if I fail at this?” Or worse, “I’m not good at this.
When things start to go sideways, we tend to start focusing more on ourselves, our own talents and keeping our egos in check. When you hear these sorts of lines in your head, recognize it’s not the mindset of the boss everyone wants to work for. Shut it up. And flip it. Mindchatter matters.
As a new leader, make sure your mindchatter is constructive. Be perceptive, motivational, realistic and positive. Listen to the right mindchatter. Use your mindchatter to tell yourself, “You can do it in time,” or “You do have the power to learn about leading others,” and “You can be the boss everyone wants to work for.” And it’s really important to use “you,” not “me.”
In her book, Dweck discussed the “I” versus “you” pronoun among chief executive officers (CEOs), the people at the very top of organizations. CEOs who wanted validation — superstar or hero status, or wanted others to believe they were the smartest, most talented person in the room — tended to have a fixed mindset. They used the pronoun “I” more.
Others mentioned, like Jack Welch of GE, Anne Mulcahy of Xerox or Lou Gerstner of IBM, had a growth mindset. They hated using the word “I” and preferred to use “you” or “we” or “us” in their writings and speeches. They also emphasized the importance of learning and growing as a leader, not being the smartest and best and brightest in the room. “It’s not about me anymore,” right? They got it. They flipped their script by flipping their mindset