Something that’s core for everybody working in people management is the different behaviours employees exhibit and the psychology behind them. How does mindset affect your employees in the workplace? 

Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychology professor, describes two mindsets: fixed and growth. People with a fixed mindset believe you need to prove yourself over and over, while those with a growth mindset believe your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. People with a growth mindset find success in learning and improving, not just winning.

Mindset and the brain

Jason Moser of Michigan State University and his colleagues found that people who think they can learn from their mistakes have a different brain reaction to mistakes than people who think intelligence is fixed. In one of their studies, they showed that people who think they can learn from their mistakes did better after one is made – they successfully bounced back after an error. Their brains also reacted differently, producing a bigger second signal. These people focused on what went wrong so they can try again: “I see that I’ve made a mistake, so I should pay more attention,” Moser says.

Mindset and leadership

People with a fixed mindset do not admit and correct their deficiencies. In their studies, Peter Heslin and Don VandeWalle of Southern Methodist University show that managers with a fixed mindset lack the ability to acknowledge employee behavioral change and engagement in employee coaching.

The good news is that a growth mindset can be taught in children and in adults. In a controlled study performed by Heslin and VandeWalle, one group was trained for a growth mindset and the other wasn’t. After six weeks, the managers provided the employee with more and better suggestions for improving their performances, and gave greater acknowledgement of the employee’s improvement. The managers who, six weeks earlier, had a fixed mindset, had now provided appraisal ratings and coaching suggestions that were similar to the managers with a growth mindset.

In the book by Jim Collins Good to Great, he summarizes that the leaders who brought their organisations success were the ones who were constantly asking questions, emotional agile in their way of handling tough situations, and getting the answers even in the toughest times. These leaders saw failures from others and from themselves, and at the same time had faith that the organisation will succeed. They were constantly trying to improve.

A person with a fixed mindset would view leadership as an innate quality, or believe that people are born leaders. A person with a growth mindset would believe that leadership abilities can be learned and acquired through effort and experience. The leadership mindset is a critical component related to effectiveness and success as a leader. Leadership training programs should consider focusing on helping leaders develop a growth mindset about their leadership abilities.

How can you develop a growth mindset?

The first step is to learn what the voice of your mindset sounds like and then train yourself that you have a choice, to act accordingly or act differently. To become more self-aware and challenge yourself, ask yourself: ‘Am I doing this because I want others to see me as the best and smartest manager or am I doing this because we are a great team, my employees are really trying and working hard, we have all learned from our mistakes, which is important.’

To challenge yourself with things that you’re not so good at is a way of developing a growth mindset. To make mistakes and learn from them is another.

How common are these behaviours in your organisation?

Written by Lotta Wallin, consultant in L&D, In focus and well-being Ltd.

Lotta Wallin, a consultant in L&D who works in an International environment with sustaining behavior change by utilizing evidence based methods, tools and assessments. Lotta has broad experience from cognitive behavioral therapy and executive coaching, she is a specialist in adult learning and human behavior, for academic institutions as well as corporate organizations. She designs and delivers training in leadership and positive psychology, to name a few.

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