LeaderMoms, Modeling a Growth Mindset is Wise.


This week, we saw some famous people paying to get their kids into colleges. That made me sad, and a little sick, because it is terrible plan.   

I do get the appeal. We often think of success as a linear process, and there is a good bit of anxiety in play. If our kids can get XY or Z (into an ivy, a job, a car), our kids will be happy. But that belief is wildly misguided. 

Because success is loopy, we are wiser to cultivate and model skills for the long-game – that is, skills to drive forward and to handle the downward loops. 

According to Carol Dweck’s research, people – leaders, students, athletes – are more successful with a growth mindset than fixed mindset. The good news: Growth mindset can be cultivated and shifted at any age. Familiarity with this work offers a twofer for LeaderMoms – i.e., direct application at work and home. With a growth mindset, facing challenges, struggling and getting criticized builds capacity. With a fixed mindset, the opposite happens; people lie, cheat, and avoid challenges. There is a lot to her work (represented at a high level in the graphic below), and three main themes. 

  1. Learn. With intention.

  2. Practice. Deliberately. Discipline.

  3. Recover. From criticism. Rejection. Mistakes.

Most LeaderMoms get the first two. This weekend, as a gesture against crazy, consider also modeling a few of these powerful RECOVERY skills at home. Practicing these skills benefits you as leader, as a partner or spouse, as a parent, and as a friend. Over the years, in coaching work, in research with clients and in positive psychology research, we have seen these behaviors – that seem vulnerable – actually make the most effective leaders stand out from the good ones. Leaders who do these things are seen as having high integrity and are trusted, and their risk profile is improved, which supports growth. Last, they are better models on a people-development front. As they model learning, it’s easier for their colleagues and direct reports to do the same.

  1. Admitting responsibility for mistakes, for having been wrong or having missed something. “That was my mistake.” Or “My bad. Sorry.” “Let me try that again.”

  2. Acknowledging with empathy when our impact is not in line with our intention. This means not defending ourselves or explaining what we meant to do. It does mean owning the negative impact on others sooner. I heard a General Counsel this in response to critical feedback about him arguing too aggressively: “I want to defend myself, but if I am honest with you and myself, I do that, and I can see how they would experience it that way. Damn. I will try really hard not to do that.” His skill in hearing that feedback with empathy enabled him to improve faster as a leader.

  3. Forgiving ourselves and others for being who we are and for not being perfect. We drop balls. We make mistakes. We all say stupid things. My daughter was a junior in high school before this sentence came out of my mouth: “I forgive you for not bringing your plates downstairs. I get you have a lot going on. Next time, please clean up after yourself.” That was so much simpler, and much more powerful than walking around in that martyr-ish, annoyed state that depletes all of our energy. It was hard to talk my brain into doing it, and so much more effective when I did.

  4. Asking for help when we need it. When we are forthcoming about being in trouble or needing some support, we invite our kids to lean on us when they need help.

Join us in battling fixed mindset craziness like buying our way into colleges. In our own corners of the world, let’s set an example of how to be more successful and happier. 

Nigel Holmes Graphic of Dweck's Mindset.gif
Kaitlin Hershey