Why a Growth Mindset is Crucial for Business Leadership

March 29, 2020

Why a Growth Mindset is Crucial for Business Leadership

How many times have you been met with an employee who believed they were incapable of completing a task or carrying out a responsibility? I have found myself in this situation several times, and I am always surprised by the reaction of the employee. Someone who is capable of handling a task believes they cannot, and they are often too scared to try.

As a leader, incorporating a growth mindset into your organization can provide the encouragement employees need to be innovative and tackle a challenge. Instead of limiting themselves, people have the freedom to try and fail until they succeed. Keep reading for an overview of growth mindset and how leaders should incorporate it into the workplace.

What is a growth mindset?

A mindset refers to a self-perception or the beliefs and theories one holds about themselves. A mindset is believing that you are intelligent or unintelligent, strong or weak, good or bad. Our mindsets can be related to our personal lives or our professional lives. We form mindsets about our abilities and skills, our morals, and the way we believe others view us.

We are not always aware of our own mindsets though. There are likely deep-rooted beliefs that we each hold, and they present themselves throughout our lives. Our mindsets, even the ones we are unaware of, can impact how we learn, what skills we acquire, how we form relationships, and our professional successes and failures.

Growth mindset has been a subject of focus for many educators in recent years. In recent studies, growth mindset has been observed in students and how they view themselves and their learning opportunities. Carol Dweck, who wrote the popular book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, defined growth mindset as a belief that someone’s basic abilities can be developed.

A growth mindset views success as possible through dedication and hard work. Intelligence or talent alone are not enough to develop basic abilities, acquire skills, or achieve success. Dweck wrote that students who have a growth mindset develop a love of learning and resilience. These students also learn more and do it faster. Thankfully, we have found that the principles of growth mindset expand far beyond the classroom.

Growth mindset vs. fixed mindset

When I mention growth mindset, I must also touch on a fixed mindset. This mindset serves as an opposite to growth mindset with the belief that one’s abilities or qualities are fixed and unable to change and develop over time. I am sure we can all think of someone who has little confidence in their abilities. Whether the belief is founded or not, they are under the impression that they cannot accomplish something, and nothing can change that opinion.

According to Dweck, students who have a fixed mindset often fails because they believe they will. These people tell themselves that they cannot do something or that they are unable to, and they often find excuses to make sense of their failure. Having a fixed mindset brings about something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. When we believe we cannot do something, we are more likely to fail. That failure then reinforces our beliefs of our shortcomings or inabilities, and we are more likely to fail again in the future.

One of the main differences between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset is fear. Those with a fixed mindset fear that they will look dumb or be perceived as a failure. They often shy away from challenges or learning opportunities because they do not want to appear unintelligent. People who have a growth mindset put in effort and capitalize on opportunities for learning. They view their basic abilities or talents as the starting point for their full potential. A fixed mindset does not believe they can get smarter, while a growth mindset knows that they can increase their intelligence through persistence.

Growth vs. fixed mindset in academic performance: Students with a growth mindset saw an increase in grades throughout their school years, while students with a fixed mindset saw a decrease.

Growth mindset in a successful workplace

While Dweck and many other researchers have focused on growth mindset in the classroom, it is important to consider it in the workplace as well. Dweck extended her work and research to look at the impact and implications of a growth mindset on organizations instead of just students.

Researchers conducted a survey to determine whether employees of a company had a largely fixed or growth mindset. Then, they sought to determine how the mindset of the organization impacted the culture of the company, employee satisfaction, collaboration, and other aspects.

Companies that had a fixed mindset tended to have employees considered stars or highly valued workers. The fear of failure was prevalent throughout the organization and fewer employees pursued innovative projects. In organizations with a growth mindset, supervisors felt that their employees were more innovative and collaborative. Employees in these companies reported that they were happier, took more risks, and leaned toward innovation.

Leadership qualities of growth mindset

Getting an entire organization on board with adopting a growth mindset has to start at the top. Management and executives must be the ones driving a shift in mindset and leadership styles can play into this shift greatly. Leaders who are willing to listen to their employees, provide opportunities for learning and growth, and be more flexible in their practices may see more success when it comes to a growth mindset.

When employees are judged or measured based on how they meet organizational expectations, they are instantly limited. Setting such limitations on an employee or a leader instantly puts them in a box and breeds complacency. Providing more freedom to employees or organizational leaders enables them to grow. There are more opportunities for sharing knowledge and innovation.

Leadership skills for a growth mindset

There are many types of leadership and the best type will depend on the unique situation of the individual and organization. However, a growth mindset makes a leader more likely to thrive in any situation. Those with a growth mindset take on challenges instead of shrinking from them. Common leadership qualities associated with a  growth mindset include the following.

  • Open-mindedness: A growth mindset requires inclusivity and listening to the unique perspectives of those around you.
  • Comfort with uncertainty: Embracing uncertainty can help you shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. We have found that companies go through periods of uncertainty and come out successful when leaders see these times as an opportunity.
  • Reject complacency: “Good enough” is almost a kiss of death. These limiting beliefs can trap you and your employees in a cycle of mediocrity.
  • Individuality: While like-mindedness is important on some level in organizations, individuality encourages innovation and growth.

Inspiring others to incorporate a growth mindset

Companies that wish to inspire a growth mindset should invest their time and attention into developing their people. Providing opportunities for employees to grow and improve their skills can help your organization develop strong leaders with complementing leadership styles. There are many leadership skills organizational executives and managers can incorporate to develop leadership qualities in others.

  • Recognize effort: When employees are recognized and praised for their efforts at learning, growth, and innovation, they are more likely continue trying to improve themselves. Even if the effort does not result in success, praising the attempt will encourage employees to press on despite the setback.
  • Incorporate the word “yet:” Yet is a powerful word when it comes to growth mindset. Simply adding the word yet turns a negative thought or belief into one with hope. Next time you or one of your employees says, “I don’t know how to do that,” I recommend adding the word yet to the end of that sentence and notice the change in outlook.
  • Be an example: How you speak and act around your employees is how they will speak and act. I have known firsthand the power of example. If you adopt a grow mindset, your team is more likely to follow.
  • Encourage collaboration: In the classroom, this principle is known as shared learning. When people work together to solve problems, they are introduced to new perspectives and approaches. Collaborating can help boost critical thinking and instill the value of listening in your team.
  • Let them struggle: I do not believe in setting your employees up to fail, but there is merit in letting someone struggle through a problem on their own. As a leader, it is tempting to jump in with the answer if we see someone struggling, but this puts limitations on their problem-solving skills. Staying out of the way as someone works through a problem enables them to think freely and come up with a solution you may not have seen yourself.

Growth mindset and emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is an awareness of your own emotions as well as the emotions of others. Having emotional intelligence enables people to manage themselves and their relationships in the moment even when circumstances and moods are unfavorable. In the workplace, growth mindset and emotional intelligence go hand in hand.

A growth mindset connects people with their purpose. They have the freedom to be as creative and innovative as they want, and they are more likely to go the extra mile to reach their goals. Developing emotional intelligence through training, workshops, and lots of practice gives people the insight they need to shift into a growth mindset. Tapping into emotional intelligence can help shift from negative to positive, opening the door for growth.


The best leaders have a growth mindset, constantly developing their leadership skills. These people also have the leadership qualities needed to encourage a growth mindset in their employees. Shifting from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset is no easy feat. It will require a plan and enabling multiple business leadership styles to be successful. However, in many cases, a growth mindset can be what sets you and your team apart from the competition.

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