Out of the many transformational activities that HR professionals are involved today, developing leaders for the future is one of the most critical and impactful function. Although one might find extensive ‘how-to-do’ lists and best practices, what often gets missed out in most leadership development programs is the idea that it is an ever-evolving process. A process that keeps pace with changing times while keeping true to its original tenants that bestow it the right character. However, the process cannot be put into motion without changing the approach to it.
It is here where the concept of growth mindset becomes valuable.
The term was originally coined by Carol Dweck, a professor of Psychology at Stanford, in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. After years of rigorous study done on how humans, both children and adults, react to failures, her book explains the two different mindsets that usually factor in when it comes to the development of human faculties in the face of failures and restrictions in the external world.
On one hand we have a mindset that puts a limit on person’s ability to be creative and resourceful and often ends ups restricting what can be humanly achieved. This mindset, referred to the ‘fixed’ mindset, is static in nature. With fixed definitions of what can be achieved and what cannot be, it pits success over failure in a black and white manner. Which means that either success can be achieved through the ‘inherent capabilities’ or there is just failure. This leaves no scope for experimentation as people with such a mindset usually never go out of their comfort zones.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have a mindset type which believes that human capabilities are dynamic in nature. That they can be built, and modified, in accordance with one’s wish and intent. This brings in a lot more fluidity in what one can achieve and not achieve. A growth mindset looks at uncharted territories as opportunities to grow and learn, rarely giving into the pressure of failures being a road block.
The critical difference between the two mindsets is that while a ‘fixed’ mindset might be great at completing certain functions efficiently, it often faces a problem when it comes to dealing with situations which are unstructured while a growth mindset seeks to challenge existing notions of what can be achieved and sees an unstructured area of performance as opportunity to grow, learn and thrive in. When it comes to modern day business scenarios the latter is finding an increasing number of supporters.
Within a business context
Organizations that can today successfully translate a growth mindset into a way of looking at newer areas to identify productive opportunities greatly increase their chances of performing better. One of the key areas where organizations have started adopting a growth mindset has been in the area of leadership development. A recent article in the Harvard Business review outlines how Microsoft as a company has been using a growth mindset to identify latent talents within their companies and enter new business and technological domains by the sheer virtue of experimentation. The following lessons can prove key when it comes to building a leadership framework which is more adaptive of the changing times and ensures that critical business areas are explored irrespective of their relative riskiness.
Personality and intelligence can be built
Although most modern education systems strive to provide equitable educational opportunities to learners, most corporate leadership development programs are built on the system of identifying select few with inherent talent and supplementing them with the right environment to grow. Although this approach is fairly successful, it's limiting in its approach and its basic assumptions to begin with. Often such high performers, or HiPOs, are inducted into a talent development program fairly early on the assumption that they have ‘inherent talent’. This assumption that a select few have ‘talent’ while others are mediocre often leads to a company excluding a significant portion of employee base from taking up leadership opportunities.
As the theory of growth mindset proposes, the qualities necessary to lead and function efficiently, as with most other qualitative traits, can be built and explored by approaching it with the right mindset. Adopting one can help HR professionals build more intuitive and exhaustive talent management programs which look at long-term solutions to building the right potential in their employees to lead rather than using leadership development programs as a short term solution; a move that ends up reducing the pool of leaders being developed internally. A strong growth mindset driven program can also help HR professionals tackle the situation of internal succession by creating a larger and more efficient talent pool.
Prioritizes learning over approvals
By embracing a growth mindset approach towards building competencies, HR professionals bring in a vital component into most of their people development processes—a genuine passion for learning and growing. Contrary to a fixed mindset which takes learning and performance capabilities to be static, a growth mindset looks at learning from a totally new perspective. With a belief that over time skills and capabilities can be improved, one finds a higher risk taking ability among such individuals. This helps HR professionals create better learning programs and in turn, drive better results from their learning and development programs. Individuals under such a system would eventually transcend the need to conform with the expected notions of success and would rather seek to improve their performance, across various parameters, building a strong learning culture in the long run.
The ability to take risks
Leaders, across the various levels of organizations today, are expected to respective units in a business environment which is becoming increasingly complex. With the shortening of profit margins on existing business lines, many companies today are being forced to look out of their traditionally held business space to innovate and develop more consumer-intuitive products. This means that companies need leaders who are comfortable in taking risks and focus more on what they stand to gain rather than stick to their comfort zones. A growth mindset helps build programs that create leaders who are open to experiment and learn from their failures. The often quoted term of ‘innovation’ is rarely a by-product. It needs to carefully built into the very DNA of the company. Skeptics can argue on the right way but what a growth mindset does is that it brings in an approach that’s open to taking risks and build leaders who learn from their failure, making them better at taking risks and in turn being relatively more successful in translating risky ideas into sustainable product lines.
The application of a growth mindset can be beneficial for an organization as it seeks to bring in innovation and creative problem-solving capabilities within its workforce. An organization with growth mindset often finds several advantages when it comes to building leadership programs as it positively impacts employee motivation and helps create a higher risk-taking culture. This has been inferred post studies done by Carol Dweck and her colleagues. In a report in HBR, the researchers outline the results of their assessment of a sample of employees chosen from Fortune top 1000 companies. Their research revealed that in companies where the notion that ‘talent is concentrated among a few and nobody essentially can change anything about it’ was more agreed upon, were organizations that were more of a ‘fixed’ mindset company. Employees of such companies would worry more about failing and hence pursued fewer innovative projects, according to the research. This was quite opposite in the case of employees from companies that were identified to have a growth mindset. This comes as a stark revelation as today most talent development programs look at selecting a few employees with “potential” rather than casting an open net to allow creativity and leadership to flow through everybody.
What HR professionals need to note that simply adopting the term of ‘growth’ mindset will be as impactful as hiring a soothsayer to predict employee attrition. It’ll be a futile task. The result of adopting a growth mindset should be reflected in the manner in which the workforce looks at it new opportunities, embraces failures and stretches the boundaries of what is feasible for excellence and what isn’t. This should also be reflected in the organization's trust in its employees to help them lead “moonshot” goals provide equitable leadership acceleration opportunities.