I grew up with a father who had high expectations of his children. He was an orthopedicsurgeon who asked lots of questions to understand a situation and make quickdecisions. He tended to put people into categories very quickly. This both helped andhindered him as a physician; I learned a lot from him. On the positive side, I learnedhow to dive in and ask questions to diagnose a situation quickly. This helped me a greatdeal when I was a consultant advising executives on organisation design andtransformation. But, I also learned to quickly sort people into categories related tocertain capabilities (e.g. good presenter, bad listener, weak collaborator, strongstrategist). This really hurt me as a manager.
The first time I completed the Growth Leader Assessment I was surprised that I scored
average on Growth Mindset. I couldn’t believe it! I’d spent my career building a global
consulting firm that built human capabilities for business growth—I had even earned a
PhD. It seemed impossible. But, when I dug deeper into the feedback I realised that it
was correct—my tendency to put people into capability buckets also helped me make
assumptions about their ability to grow and learn. These beliefs impacted my
willingness to invest my time and effort in their development. How much I chose to
invest in others’ learning and development impacted my team and my business.
Working on ourselves as leaders is not always pleasant. It’s more fun to leverage our
strengths, which gives us confidence and feels good. When I saw my mediocre ratings
on Growth Mindset compared to other leaders, I challenged the results (I’m a scientist,
so I’m pretty good at that) and denied it was a problem. Fortunately, I had a mentor who
cared a lot about me, and helped me think about why this mattered for my business.
The success of my business really mattered to me, so I took action and it paid off in
many ways over the years that followed.
If you’re like me, you want your organisation to grow, learn from failure, and build new
capabilities. This is easier to do with a Growth Mindset. The good news is that you can
build your Growth Mindset like athletes do when building muscle or skill. You start with
some type of insight (e.g. my growth mindset is holding me back, or my team needs to
learn faster for us to survive) and a goal (e.g. I’m going to improve our growth culture, I
will set stretch targets for my team). Then this must be followed by deliberate practice
leading or delivering growth and innovation. What triggers your development is
intentional practice with feedback, not some kind of awareness building or classroom
training. In this way, you can build your Growth Mindset as a kind of leadership muscle.
Here are three things you can do to build your Growth Mindset:
Push yourself and your organisation
It’s much easier to do what we know and to repeat what has worked in the past than to
think or behave differently. If your business is growing (or changing), you have to push
your people to try new things and to achieve goals that they think are impossible. They
may not like this, and they may not like you for doing it. If they are not growing (or
changing) as fast or faster than the pace of the business, they will not make it—and it is
your responsibility to ensure they have the greatest chance of success. Pushing
yourself and others forces new strategies, new ways of doing things, and new learning.
Just remember not to punish yourself or others when mistakes get made along the way.
Experiment rapidly, learn, and do it again
Sometimes we put all our eggs in one basket. We expect one tactic to solve our growth
needs, or one intervention to solve all our problems. With business growth and change,
it’s a better strategy to create a portfolio of experiments and then pursue them in a
disciplined manner. Of course you have to manage the size of your portfolio, and you
cannot do everything at once! When one of the experiments fails, cut your losses
quickly, learn from the experience, and move on. If it succeeds, grow and scale it to the
next level fast. With experimentation, you can always expect some failures, and you
also can expect people to feel uncomfortable because any experiment is inherently
ambiguous. Help others navigate the discomfort of the unknown by describing what they
think success looks like and reaffirming that they are on the right path.
Look for things you don’t know
Building a Growth Mindset requires us to look for things we don’t know. Sometimes
people spend so much time in a field or job that they become very knowledgeable about
how to get things done. If they go into a new environment or their existing environment
changes, they are sure to fail if they keep drawing upon their existing expertise or act
like they know everything. We can build a Growth Mindset by looking for what we don’t
know pretty much anywhere—in conversations, presentations, and workshops. Practice
showing curiosity and asking questions that open up thinking rather than close it down.
Remember that experts in their fields are often the first to admit that they have a lot to
This article is the second in a short series sharing my views on how companies can
embrace an abundance mindset towards leadership and leadership development. I
define leadership as the act of driving a collective effort to succeed. In every business,
from start-ups to established multinational corporations, we need individual collective
leadership to ensure the business and its employees can succeed today and in the
Produgie can help you build and scale Growth Mindsets across your business.