How Leaders And Organisations Can Flourish By Changing Mindsets

The notion that our success in life is linked to how we think is not a new concept. Lately I’ve been pondering Carol Dweck’s work on a Growth versus Fixed Mindset, as it relates to our ability to respond to and embrace the future of work in our roles, as both employees and leaders of people. Change is everywhere, and my experience is that those who respond best to change are able to see more potential and are not limited by present circumstances.

People with a Growth mindset understand that talents and abilities can be developed with the application of effort and perseverance. People with a Fixed mindset believe that these are innate. If you consider how this manifests in behaviour, you witness those with a Growth mindset trying new things, learning from their mistakes and translating so-called failures into positive outcomes. They have greater resilience and are lifelong learners, striving to improve and develop.

Those with a Fixed mindset are thwarted by difficulty and adversity rather than being energised by it, resulting in potential negative impacts on performance and demeanour. People with this thinking are motivated by a basic need for constant validation from external sources to feel worthy, lacking an intrinsic recognition of their own value.


So, what does this mean for the workplace? Dweck and her colleagues found some very positive outcomes in organisations fostering a Growth mindset, through research involving seven Fortune 1000 companies. Specifically, organisations that had employees who reported greater trust were more likely to feel a sense of ownership and commitment to the future of the company and held a greater belief that the company supported appropriate risk-taking. Interestingly, she also found that there were reported lower levels of unethical behaviour in these organisations, as employees were not motivated to deliver a result at any cost. Correspondingly, supervisors also held more positive views on the talent in their teams.

In addition to having a predisposition for a Growth or a Fixed mindset, human beings also have a tendency towards an Abundance or a Scarcity mentality (S. Covey, 1989). Of particular interest is the intersection between the two, with Growth and Abundance being closely linked, and Fixed and Scarcity lining up. Abundance is about seeing the world as a place rich in resources and opportunities; where there is enough for everyone. Scarcity is the reverse, where one must hoard and protect goods, work, relationships, opportunities and even food. You can imagine the negative behaviours that might stem from this way of thinking, including over-competition, mistrust, lack of collaboration, jealousy, greed and a desire for control. These qualities are characterised by tension, negative energy and narrow thinking and impact the ability of organisations to build high-performing teams.

The good news is that with focus and commitment, organisations can inculcate a culture of Growth and Abundance, and change the internal monologue that shapes our overall motivation and perspective —but it all starts with leadership. Microsoft has done some creative work in giving greater numbers of employees the chance to have a leadership experience, recognising that leadership can be developed and is not innate (C. Dweck; K. Hogan, 2016). This has resulted in greater potential being realised across the Company.

The first step in the journey to a healthier and happier culture starts with analytics and helping people understand thinking style and associated implications. It is possible to unlock the potential for an Abundance mindset by:

  • practicing gratitude;
  • considering unlimited possibilities;
  • being mindful of one’s thoughts;
  • facing fears systematically.

A few simple things organisations can implement to achieve a Growth mindset are:

  1. To praise and reward effort, strategy and perseverance — not just achievement. With this approach, there are implications for the way in which remuneration and reward are structured as well as the design of performance review processes and practices.
  2. Build leadership capability outside of the traditional hierarchy.
  3. Place an intentional focus on hiring people with a Growth mindset, tested at the interview with the use of judicious questioning.

There is not a single lever that can be pulled to change mindsets but there is a suite of solutions that are cumulative in building more productive cultures and more engaged employees. Now more than ever with the pace of change at work, organisations and their leaders need to be more agile, take more measured risks and be more innovative if they wish to compete, survive and flourish.

Talk to us at A Human Agency about enhancing the performance of your organisation by focusing on your culture, your leaders and by delivering positive employee experiences. 

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C. Dweck. 2016. Mindset. Random House, USA.

S. Covey. 1989. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Free Press. USA.

C. Dweck; K. Hogan. 2016. How Microsoft Uses a Growth Mindset to Develop Leaders. Harvard Business Review.

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