In a previous post, I explored what a growth mindset actually is, as developed by Carol Dweck of Stanford university, USA. At the heart of this is the belief by the individual that they can can better at a skill, through committed practise, they can continue to improve. It is this fundamental belief or mindset that lies at the difference between a growth and a fixed mindset, where the individual believes that their level of ability is fixed and that this in essence cannot change.
In my coaching practise, it is an area that I work with a lot with clients. People hold all sorts of beliefs about themselves, both helpful and unhelpful. A lot of client resistance and “stuckness” can emanate from having a fixed mindset and belief in their ability to achieve certain things. I might hear comments like, “that’s out of my league, or “I could never do that or I have never been any good at, presenting/influencing etc and I don’t see that changing.”
In helping the client undercover their fixed mindset on the range of their skills etc, it can be helpful to re-visit past and formative experiences, but merely as an aide to understanding their current situation; the aim is not to” stare” at the past, as one would do in a counselling relationship. It is also very important to explore their underlying need or appetite for making improvements in the stated area. If they have no genuine interest or other compelling reason to improve in an area, then the motivation and genuine intention and desire to improve is absent. However if this fixed view is causing them unhelpful and indeed painful consequences, then this can be a useful starting point.
A not untypical coaching scenario in which this concept is relevant follows. A coaching client in a large, fast paced retail organisation, was having difficulties effectively leading his team. He was experiencing difficulty making real connections with his team members. Upon exploration of the reality of the situation and context, his fixed mindset was that he was no good at developing meaningful connections with other people. The evidence however suggested otherwise. He was in happy long term relationship, he had a number of hobbies outside work that were sociable by nature and my impression was of someone with a good degree of awareness and a keen but underutilised sense of humour. Through coaching, he established that this way of communicating at work had built up over time, as a sort of defensive armour, following some negative experiences early on in his working career. What also helped was that he was willing and ready to make modifications to his style, as both he and his team were suffering real consequences due to his habitual communication style. He took time to make the changes, incrementally and with on-going support and feedback from both myself as his coach and others both within the team and other stakeholders. The results for him and his team were excellent and importantly sustained over a period of time
In a nutshell, here are my top tips for developing a growth mindset:
- Be very clear about your reason for wanting to improve your skill/talent/aptitude. If your reasons for doing so are aligned with your goals, what you want to achieve and your values, and there is a causal link between these two, this will lend vital motivation to the process of developing a growth mindset.
- Break down clear stages into how you are going to develop/improve this skill; be realistic with this, if you are overly ambitious, you may be setting yourself up for early setbacks.
- Get support, whether that is with a work colleague, a friend or buddy, or a professional coach or mentor.
- Feedback is vital, your own sense of achievement and progress will be important but feedback from others, which is timely, evidenced and relevant is also an integral part of the process
- Celebrate achievements, no matter how small, bask in it, savour it.
- When you experience any setbacks, as you will inevitably do, take the learning from it (not the self-criticism, which is largely unhelpful). Reflect on what is not working well, and work out a strategy to improve that. This can mean trying a different approach to what you have been used to; go with this, remain flexible and curious.
The growth mindset concept is also very relevant to the concept of resilience, in particular the individual’s attitude to challenge. A person might see a work related challenge as an opportunity for growth and advancement; another person might see the same challenge as a threat and something to be avoided. Of course people can have a variance of these polar attitudes also. they might be anywhere on the continuum. When we work with either individuals or teams in connection with their resilience, this will be one of the facets of their resilience, that we will work with and Dweck’s invaluable work supports us together with thousands of other pratictioners be more informed in our approach.
Whatever your interest in this area, it is highly relevant to all of us. Take your time to do some further research, it will serve you well.
Emintell Limited and Natures Coaching work in partnership with organisations who want to support their people develop their resilience, performance and overall sense of well being. As well as working in organisations we also run open workshops on resilience and wellbeing