Carol Dweck’s book Mindset reflects on what mindset is needed for us to fulfill our potential. Could it be that those who appear to be the cleverest are not the most likely to fulfill their potential and deliver success in the organisations within which they work?
In this book she describes 2 mindsets:
- The Fixed Mindset – this mindset believes that our qualities and abilities are fixed and it creates an underlying need to prove oneself again and again in all areas of life. This mindset focuses so much on proving oneself that failure is devastating and bigger challenges will be avoided.
- The Creative Mindset – this mindset believes that our qualities and abilities can be cultivated through our efforts, our strategies and help from others. This mindset learns from each opportunity as well as every failure and it always pushes to improve.
Carol Dweck refers to some telling pieces of research. In one research project fixed mindset medical students studying chemistry only stayed interested if they did well straight away, otherwise they showed a big drop in interest and enjoyment. Students with a growth mindset maintained their interest even when the work was challenging. They recognized that studying chemistry was an important step to getting in to their career of choice.
The same was true of school students who were given puzzles to solve. In the early stages the students all enjoyed the puzzles but as the difficulty increased the students with the fixed mindset opted out of solving them, even if they were good at the puzzles. These students became scared of failing to solve the more challenging puzzles.
This reminds me of a number of senior leaders I have worked with who would not tolerate any suggestion of failure on transformation programmes and projects. It seems for them that any failure becomes personal and they look to blame the incompetence of the project manager, the project team or both. Within the programme this leads to reduced risk taking, reduced innovation and an increased focus on managing expectations and good news. Could it be that these senior leaders have their own fixed mindset and cannot tolerate being associated with a perceived failure?
Of course it is vital that projects have challenging deadlines and targets, as it is this that leads to improvement. After all without targets and deadlines how can progress be assessed and the need for learning lessons be determined? However leaders who have a low failure tolerance and whose instinct is to seek blame when things go wrong will kill innovation and reduce success. They are not suitable for leading transformation.
In contrast, leaders who are ambitious about achievement and yet who are able to tolerate failure and learn the critical lessons albeit quickly, will deliver real transformation.
Hartswood Management Ltd
Delivering real transformation