Growth or Fixed: How your Mindset impacts your performance

Published June 22, 2015

In her groundbreaking book Mindset: the new psychology of success, world renowned psychologist Carol Dweck shared years of research on the power of our mindset. She explained why it’s not just our abilities and talent that brings us success – but also whether we approach our goals with a fixed or growth mindset. When I started reading this book to support my children as they enter into their adolescent years, I was struck how her research applies to my professional role as an Integral Master CoachTM and sport management consultant. This blogpost highlights not only her work but another great book I just finished reading called the Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. Both make the case that effort + attitude = success.

At no other time in our history have multiple generations worked together. This fact has created particular challenges for managers who must learn to train, monitor, and motivate different generations to accomplish their work. What motivates a baby boomer is quite different than what a millennial needs. Knowing what people need to do their job is essential knowledge that today’s managers must tap into, to not only recruit the best talent but to also retain them over the long run.

Dweck spent decades doing research on children, students, and managers to determine the secret ingredient to achieving success. She, along with Coyle, debunked the myth that talent is born, not made. In her chapter on Business: Mindset and Leadership, she reviewed some of Jim Collins’s work on the top performing companies and noted how their CEOs, who Collins calls Level 5 leaders, also possess a growth mindset. So what does having a growth mindset mean? Consider the following statements:

  • Your intelligence is something very basic about yourself that you can’t change.
  • You can learn new things but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
  • No matter how intelligent you are, you can always change it quite a bit.
  • You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.

The first two are fixed mindsets whereas the last two are growth mindset. Dweck states that people often hold one or the other mindsets. Which mindset do you hold? Knowing this is critical for managers who are looking to inspire performance in their employees.

Consider this. For the most part, athletes are encouraged to hold a growth mindset: Learn from your mistakes. Adapt to what arises in the situation. Be open to what is unfolding. Be prepared to change your mind. Instill a love of learning. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Be curious.  Athletes however who were endowed early on with being gifted can fall into the fixed mindset trap. They tend to not cope well with adversity, blame others for their failings, and give up easily. Which character trait do you believe our world champions like Chantal Petitclerc, Clara Hughes, and Mark Tewksbury possess? All three had to overcome significant challenges throughout their personal and sporting lives to achieve international success. Their mindset was one of growth that supported them despite the odds against them.

As administrators, however, I often feel that people are not encouraged to adopt the growth mindset for fear of making mistakes. If, as managers, we are only focused on the bottom line and on the achievement of objectives, we can overlook important opportunities to learn, grow, and improve performance. Paying attention to details, making simple course corrections, and enhancing processes are all important system improvements that can overtime save time and money. If staff is not encouraged to share what they’ve come to learn, it is doubtful that they will.

As we look to create world-leading cultures to support world leading sport performances, I encourage sport administrators to pay attention to the mindset they foster in their organizations. Here are a few tips I’ve acquired along the way:

TIP 1: Create a growth-minded learning culture … where mistakes are opportunities to learn and questions are invited. Next time you get or give feedback that might be construed as negative, look for ways to frame it as an opportunity to get better.

TIP 2: Practice Level 5 leadership … for more on this form of leadership, check out what Jim Collins has to say about this authentically inspired leadership practice. Look to surround yourself with people who know more than you do … then watch your organization’s performance soar.

TIP 3: Invest in your people … ensure that your professional development budgets are based not only on fixed trait enhancements but also support the acquisition of new skills like enhanced communications, negotiation, and interpersonal development.

TIP 4: Encourage people to disagree, respectfully … research builds a compelling argument that strong teams benefit from people who hold different points of views and feel comfortable sharing them openly with others. Look for the ‘third way’ when struggling with a critical decision – there’s my way, your way, and a third way (which is different that the middle ground which can create a culture of complacency). The ‘third way’ emerges when people work together to understand each other’s perspective and in the process become open to something more. The ‘third way’ is what gives rise to creativity and greatness. Both are needed to address some of the complex problems managers have to deal with in today’s ever-changing environment.

TIP 5: Reward a growth mindset … ensure you are recognizing staff who are willing to take risks, share their experience and have adapted accordingly. People are inspired to change if they are rewarded to do so.

To grow is to prosper. That is Dweck’s point. I encourage sport administrators to pick up this great little book over the summer and apply some of her simple, yet powerful suggestions when confronted with your next problem. As for me, I’ve challenged my kids to teach me how to juggle a soccer ball and to perfect the ‘rainbow’ move over the next two months. I have chosen to not let my fear of failure prevent me from learning. Will you?

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