The Irony Of A Growth Mindset
Outside with my children the other day, one of them decided to try something new; instead
of tobogganing they wanted to 'snow surf'. (Think standing on your sled instead of kneeling or sitting. Like snowboarding but with none of the right equipment!) The kids tried to 'snow surf' for quite a while, achieving a 0% success rate. At one point their attempts were 0/20 and yet they were still having fun.
Embracing a "growth mindset" is something we've come to expect from children. It's on many of the school walls and talked about often in their classrooms. But when it comes to adulthood, many seem to believe we have it all figured out! [Spoiler: We don't!] So why, then, do we fight this idea of a growth mindset so strongly as adults?
For some, it may be our own ego getting in the way; the idea that we could be doing something better than we already are is too harsh a truth for us to swallow. For others, it's about poise and position: if we admit we don't know something, maybe people will think we don't know anything! And still for others, it may be a matter of tolerance; perhaps we know we could do better, but we don't want to put the time and energy towards the work required to actually get better.
Embracing a "growth mindset" is something we've come to expect from children.
Regardless of the reason, I believe many people stay working in cultures that don't truly support a growth mindset, because it allows them to sit comfortably not addressing any -or all- of the reasons I just mentioned.
Many workplaces are rampant with jargon that speaks to the desire for a growth mindset from staff, but doesn't truly support a growth mindset. Sure, the company offers professional development days, training resources and education subsidy, but that's only 1 side of the growth mindset equation. The other side to consider is "how do things pan out for someone who makes a mistake, at your workplace?". Is the offending party met with encouragement to correct their errors and try again? Or are they put on blast, becoming the scapegoat for the reason deadlines were missed and requirements weren't met?
The irony is we've trained many managers and executives who dream of working in an environment that supports autonomy. They themselves would like to be given the opportunity to make mistakes without it being a reprehensible course of action. But few are willing to uphold their part! It takes the initial growth step to move out of one's comfort zone and actually admit we could be doing better, and then actually attempt to do better and be okay with making a ton of mistakes along the way.
If you're a leader who questions your staff's ability to make thoughtful decisions, to maturely resolve concerns with coworkers, to engage in tough conversations or to admit when they've made a mistake, then what you really need to be questioning is the culture of your team/department/organization. The question of whether or not a company's culture is a top-down job or inspired from the bottom-up is one for another day. But as a leader, You have the ability to influence the culture within your team. You have an impact on your employee's work dynamics, and can therefore decide to instill and support a growth mindset for your staff, or continue the stale, autocratic method of fear and blame.
You have the ability to influence the culture within your team.
There are many great companies whose culture incorporates the human experience of learning from failure, and who understand the concept of 'failing forward'. But for leaders who find themselves working outside of this 'failing forward' ideology, I encourage you to take the first, brave step. Be the first to make a change to the status quo and offer your staff a different path. Adapt a growth mindset for your team by modeling a growth mindset for yourself!