Beware! Your Mindset may be robbing you and your people of a Future!

The use of the term “rob” is a bit of hyperbole but was used to get your attention about how as managers we can unintentionally hurt the people who work for us!  As managers, we tend to wish the best for our people if for no other reason then it makes us more productive.  If they are “robbed or hurt” it is unintentional and subtle.  Some of us have worked for these managers and sometimes our perception is that it is intentional and obvious.   Brainpower becomes a means of intimidation.   Even worse, they take more credit for the good things that happen than what they are due. These folks are constantly trying to prove themselves over and over again.  They crave validation.  And in proving themselves over and over again, they may be dumping on everyone else.  They are about helping themselves, not others.

The Two Mindsets

The basis of such behavior appears to be in the 20 years of research of Carol Dweck, PhD who has written a beautiful book called Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success.  Dweck makes the point that “the view you adapt for your life profoundly affects the way you lead your life”.  So if you believe that you have been dealt a fixed amount of capability (fixed mindset), there is an urgency to prove yourself over and over again, at all costs.  It’s the road to stagnation.  However, if you have a growth mindset, you view your current set of capabilities as a starting point.  Your ability to grow is not based on innate ability; it is based on hard work and effort.

According to Dweck, these mindsets have real implications for leadership.  Those with fixed mindsets focus so much on proving themselves, they do real damage to the long-term potential of their companies.  Those with growth mindsets seem to be self-effacing people who are willing to face reality and begin building the capability in their people and their companies to be successful over the long-term.

Applying A Growth Mindset

These mindsets are not new to me.  Dr. Jeff Howard of the Efficacy Institute was explaining these mindsets to people of color more than 25 years ago.  He developed at seminar called Efficacy (now being offered through Global Novations, Inc.) in response to a popular study in 1969 that discussed genetic inferiority of minorities.  At Harvard College at the time, Howard saw the negative impact it had on other students.  Some were buying into the stereotype and behaving accordingly.  He saw them not working as hard as a result.  The seminar focused on changing the perception of people of color that their future is not just based on innate ability.  He put a premium on the benefits of “Effective Effort” which represented a different way to look at and deal with mistakes.  For him, mistakes and or failure represented important feedback.  That feedback is to be used as input for a plan that is targeted, specific and challenges each individual to move outside his or her comfort zone.

Since people of color were just beginning to climb the corporate ranks back then, majority managers were more likely to believe the stereotypes and make the negative assumption about the capabilities of people of color.  As a result people of color needed to generate their own energy to counter a culture that was not always supportive of their ambitions.  Efficacy, at its core, was about not allowing one to become a victim.  If you cannot depend on your manager to provide you with support to help you grow, you needed to find a way to make it happen for yourself.

Today, we have come full circle.  Some of it is positive.  The more enlightened companies are pushing diversity initiatives that encourage underrepresented groups to take responsibility for their careers and create incentives to hold managers accountable for developing all talent within the organization.  As Vice President of Diversity for 7 years at Baxter Healthcare Corporation in the 1980’s, I clearly understood the challenge.  Even 25 years later working as an executive coach, I continue to see corporations struggling with moving people of color and women to higher levels of the organization.  Efficacy based on a growth mind-set is needed now more than ever.

What is the implication for you?

What is your mindset?  Are you getting the most out of your direct reports by demanding that they grow?  Are you helping them get beyond long held belief that “smart” is something you are versus “smart” is something you become, with hard work and effort?  Are you helping your team discover that failure is a form of feedback which demands the courage to face the reality and hard truth about performance and make a plan to get better?

This is not easy when there are deadlines to make and the work must get done.  I know!  If one of your direct reports is not performing well on a project, it is just as easy to take the work from this person and get it done yourself or move it to someone else.  However, what could you have done to prevent a timeline crisis?  How could you have managed the project timeline differently to allow your direct reports to stretch and grow? Were expectations clearly communicated at the beginning of the assignment?  What follow-up was in place to prevent surprises and last minute issues? Was feedback direct and timely?

The good thing is that these questions are color and gender blind? Today’s effective manager needs to manage a very diverse team.  If you have a growth mindset, your focus is helping to make the team better by helping to ensure that each member of the team grows to one’s full potential.  If you have a growth mindset, you help them see they have control over their development.  What’s more, a growth mindset will also help you.  At the end of the day, according to Jeff Howard and Efficacy, it is all about “living life by design, not default.”

Try the following exercise (from Carol Dweck)  to focus on a growth mindset:

  • What are my opportunities for Growth?
  • What Plan should be in place to take advantage of the opportunity?  What are the specifics around what, where and how?
  • What are the obstacles and resistance to taking advantage of these opportunities?
  • How do I need to adjust the original plan to acknowledge the new information?  What are the specifics around what, where and how?


Mindset: New Psychology of Success – Carol S Dweck, Phd, February 28, 2006

Article: The Possible Dream – by Cara Feinberg, Harvard Graduate School of Education, July 1, 2004 (about Dr. Jeff Howard and the current work of the Efficacy Institute)

The Efficacy Seminar – This seminar is being offered for businesses through Global Novations, Inc.  – They can be reached at 617-254-7600.