3 Ways CIOs Get the Growth Mindset Wrong

February 17, 2020

Contributor: Kasey Panetta

The dangers of a fixed mindset, and how to encourage employees to reach their full potential.

When researchers told teachers that a certain group of children were high performers with greater intelligence than other students, teacher expectations for the higher-performance students increased. In turn, those children’s performance improved, and they ended the year with more improved IQ scores.

These students received more feedback, more opportunities and more attention. But in reality, the researchers randomly selected students to qualify as “high-performing," and they weren’t necessarily any smarter than any children in the control group. 

The bigger lesson? Expectations create outcomes.

In a business context, leaders with a fixed growth mindset label certain employees as high-performing and others as average or low, both intentionally and unintentionally. This harms employee output and success. In a growth mindset, a term coined by Carol Dweck in her book "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” managers consider all employees to be high-performing, and enable employees to reach their full potential.   

With a growth mindset, you’ll learn from the failures that inevitably result from working outside your comfort zone

“The fixed mindset is one of absolutes. People with a fixed mindset believe basic qualities, like character, intelligence and creative ability, are fixed traits,” says Elise Olding, VP Analyst, Gartner. “They believe that these innate talents are the reasons for success, not effort, and this mindset can support a risk-averse culture.”

A growth mindset leads to a desire to learn; a fixed mindset leads to a desire to look smart. Here are three fixed mindset beliefs and how to counter them. 

Read more: 6 Mindset Traits of Disruptive Digital Leaders

You demonstrate bias toward “high-potential” employees

Long-ingrained habits may show bias and promote a fixed organizational mindset. For example, consistently giving the most challenging assignments to a core group of trusted workers prioritizes their growth over others. Those high performers may flourish with your attention, but when you only favor the select few, other employees are less likely to share ideas and take risks — and that hurts the organization. 

This is a particularly dangerous mindset for digital transformation, which depends on creativity and innovation to drive it forward.  

To attack bias effectively, adjust your “all-star” working team model and adopt a new approach that allows for a mix of abilities. Focus on improvement, not perfection, to encourage innovative thinking.  

You consistently value successful outcomes over teamwork, effort and progress

Results are important, but prizing results over all else is a leadership trap that hurts growth and innovation. Many systems don’t put enough emphasis on outcomes, such as a demonstrated improvement in strategic thinking. To nurture a growth mindset, leaders should recognize that the path to success is a messy one.

Reward those who take initiative and bring creative solutions to the table — even if those solutions aren’t always successful. This will encourage others to bring their ideas forward, and help you treat all employees as high potential.  

You aren’t comfortable with failure

A fixed mindset speaks to a willingness to accept tough, high-risk challenges. Ask yourself: Are you afraid that others will believe you are less intelligent or talented if you fail, and is that a reason why you surround yourself with perceived high performers?

A growth mindset embraces the belief that basic qualities can be developed through hard work, good strategies and input from others. Intelligence and talent are the starting points for success and are supplemented by continual learning. 

Learn from the failures that inevitably result from working outside your comfort zone

"Leaders need to recognize that grappling with thorny challenges is a good thing," Olding says. "Those who embrace the growth mindset see those challenges as opportunities to grow and learn. They're also resilient, even when faced with failure."

Taking the safe route might feed your desire to look smart, but it can also lead to risk avoidance, unhealthy competitive instincts and behaviors, and blaming others when setbacks occur. But with a growth mindset, you’ll learn from the failures that inevitably result from working outside your comfort zone. Persist through these challenges and you’ll find inspiration from others’ successes as you foster innovation throughout the enterprise.

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