Growth Mindset for Managers

Are you a manager or leader of a team? If so, you have a unique responsibility to seek and draw out the potential in others. You may be familiar with the term “growth mindset.” Having a growth mindset is important for our own careers. And when we manage others, we need to apply the same principles to how we view others.

Growth Mindset: A Refresher

In her book Mindset, Carol S. Dweck lays out two approaches to how we experience our lives. A fixed mindset says, “I am.”  Identity is static, unchanging, and limited. A growth mindset, on the other hand, says, “I can.” Identity is fluid, evolving, and unlimited. Think for a moment about how you see yourself and which mindset you predominantly use.

Now, especially if you are a manager, consider how you think about others. Have you already decided who on your team has reached their potential? Do you have someone who feel is “not management material”? Consider whether you’re assessing others from a fixed or a growth mindset.

We Typically Get What We Expect

People will typically match the expectations we put on them. For that matter, so do rats. Don’t believe me? Bob Rosenthal‘s research suggests that we can affect someone else’s performance based simply on our expectations of their performance. For an experiment, he arbitrarily labeled some of his lab rats as “incredibly smart” and others as “incredibly dumb.” Then researchers set about testing the rats’ performance. The “smart” rats performed twice as well as the “dumb” ones. Why? Because the researchers treated them better.

Be honest with yourself. Do you have limiting beliefs about some of the people you manage? Based on a few interactions — or worse, what someone else told you to expect — you may have decided that someone can’t present to executives, can’t lead a high-profile project, or wouldn’t succeed if promoted. If so, you may be applying a fixed mindset to others.

Try looking at others through the lens of a growth mindset. Think about the behaviors, skills, abilities, and knowledge that the task requires. Challenge yourself to find ways to develop the person to that level. As a manager, anytime you have those thoughts about another person, ask yourself why. Then ask yourself why again, and then do it again until you get to something that’s not fixed.

While there’s an argument to be made that we all have natural strengths, remember that skills and abilities and knowledge and behaviors are not fixed. Anything can be learned. Empathy can be learned. Interpersonal skills can be learned. There is almost nothing that any of us can do that we were born knowing how to do. If you can learn itm somebody else can too.

Influencing Your Manager’s “Growth Mindset”

What if you’re in the unfortunate position of having a manager who sees you as a fixed entity? I think it’s worth a conversation to challenge their mindset about you. What do you have to lose?

Have a respectful conversation about your goals and aspirations. You could ask questions like:

  • “What are the things that I would need to do to learn how to do this?”
  • “Are there classes I could take?”
  • “Is there someone that could mentor me?”
  • “What books should I read?”
  • “How did you learn this?”

I think the question “How did you learn this?” is great for two reasons. First, it shows respect for their skills and abilities. Second, it’s a great reminder that they went through a learning process to get where they are.



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