Is this belief derailing your development?



I have recently finished reading a book by Carol S. Dweck called “Mindset – How you can fulfil your potential’. In it, Carol takes us through her research and conclusions on how our mindsets impact our behaviour, and ultimately our approach to life. It separates people into two possible camps, one where your mindset is “Fixed” or one where your mindset is predisposed to “Growth”. The general gist is that if we have a fixed mindset, we believe that intelligence is a somewhat static quantity (you’ve either got it or you haven’t), and if we have a growth mindset, we believe that intelligence can always be developed (anyone and, in fact everyone, can get better).

This in itself did strike me as surprising, it seems quite obvious, but then Dweck’s thorough examination of the impact of each mindset, really got me thinking. It got me thinking about myself, those I train and the leaders I come into contact with. Recently, I was delivering a programme for a client and, as I always do, I began the programme by asking each participant, why they are there. Some people end up on programmes because their manager ‘told them to go’, or because ‘other people said it was good’, sometimes they sought it out themselves, as they wanted to improve in the areas being covered.

In this instance, the majority of responses were “I got an email and it said I was booked on”… This then led on to some valuable discussions about what they would like to leave the programme with, in order to feel confident it was a worthwhile trickery on the part of their L&D manager, and not a waste of their time.

Amongst the responses, one delegate’s view stood out, and though it started in the same place as the others, it went on to explain that,

“To be honest, I really don’t know why I am here. I never thought I had a problem with my leadership skills, I think I am a good leader, unless someone knows something I don’t”.

Now, I’ve always thought of a fixed mindset as someone who feels they cannot improve their leadership ability because they just ‘don’t have it in their nature’. From working with people who restrict their own development because they view their ability as low with no or little hope to improve. The sink or swim approach that I found in my first job, views that I still hear from time to time, such as, ‘Surely some people are born leaders and others can never do it – it’s just not in their make up’, etc.

What this participant was declaring was that they felt their ability was high, but it amounts to the exact same thing, they believe they cannot improve. The devastating impact of someone feeling they have learned all they can learn, that they have improved all they can, had never before been so apparent to me, and how debilitating their behaviour became to their own development. As Dweck points out, if we take this either/or view of ability, it creates an almost insurmountable barrier to improve performance, and this barrier was being played out before my eyes over the two day programme for this one participant.

The idea goes something like this: If we are of fixed mindset. One where we believe that our ability is static, there is no room to improve, either you feel ‘you either have it or you don’t’, or you just feel you have hit the top of your performance, you must, under no circumstances be seen to ‘try’. You must also avoid challenging situations, resist developmental feedback, get defensive, and not under any circumstances share your views or engage in discussion as you may reveal a chink in the armour of the finished product. The growth mindset on the other hand is all about the effort. The true masters we see around us are all ‘tryers’, some have phenomenal ability, but they know too well, that to be the best, to achieve real mastery, effort and practice is key. I attended a workshop with Peter Honey a few years ago where he shared a view that the most valuable skill in life is the ability to learn. I couldn’t agree more. If we are to truly develop a generation of world class leaders, surely the first step is to unblock the inner barriers which prevent learning and in turn block the path towards high performance.

We need to address the beliefs and mindsets which people hold – which hold people back from realising that leadership development is not a passive experience, it takes conscious practice, grit, determination and in fact failure, in order to achieve real mastery and results. It is painful and at the same time utterly rewarding.

So – From here on in, ask yourself: Which mindset are you adopting today and is it truly serving you?

Here’s to the try-hards.

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Ingenious Performance is a small organisation with a big impact.  We are specialists in high performance workplace behaviour and are passionate about delivering extraordinary results for our clients.  We believe that talent is overrated and ordinary people mastering exceptional things are what drive organisational success.

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