5-second summary
  • Based largely on research by Dr. Carol Dweck, the study of fixed and growth mindsets gives us insight into a wide range of individual behaviors.
  • Individuals with a growth mindset are more resilient and more innovative, and tend to be better received in their workplaces.
  • Dweck’s findings have implications for team behavior too, and workplaces can benefit from identifying their teams’ dominant mindset and shifting to a growth-minded perspective.

When you’re standing at the bottom of a mountain and you need to be at the top, there are two different ways you might think about it: 

  1. “I have no idea how to climb this mountain.”
  2. “How can I learn to climb this mountain?”

The first assumes that you’re limited by the skills and knowledge you currently possess. The second is a fitting example of a growth mindset – a belief that, with the right resources and enough commitment, you can develop your skills and intelligence to meet any challenge.

Why does a growth mindset matter?

No huge shocker here: a growth mindset is generally preferable to a fixed one. But why? Having a growth mindset means you’re able to:

  • Learn from your mistakes: Missteps are opportunities for self-improvement, not fodder for self-loathing. In one of Dweck’s studies, students revisited their mistakes on a test while Dweck’s team monitored their brain activity. People with a fixed mindset had no brain activity while reviewing, but those with a growth mindset showed processing activity. 
  • Be more resilient: When you perceive challenges as bumps in the road (rather than immovable roadblocks), you’re stronger, more persistent, and better able to bounce back from failure. 
  • Innovate more freely: A growth mindset is far less limiting than a fixed one when you’re considering what you’re capable of. So, it’s little surprise that research confirms a growth mindset is directly correlated to innovative behavior.
  • Boost your reputation: Most people are more eager to work with someone who’s motivated and enthusiastic than someone who’s apathetic or resigned to failure. Supervisors at companies that embrace a growth mindset have more positive perceptions of their employees than supervisors in fixed-mindset organizations, describing them as more innovative, collaborative, and committed to their advancement and education. 

Embracing a growth mindset: 4 tips to improve and evolve

Think a growth mindset is something you’re born with? Well, that’s proof you’re thinking about it with a fixed mindset. 

In reality, much like any other skill or approach, a growth mindset is something that you can cultivate within yourself – as long as you’re willing to put in the effort and commit to some practice. Here are four strategies to help you as you figure out how to have a growth mindset. 

1. Build your self-awareness

Know thyself: how self-awareness helps you at work

People with a growth mindset believe that they can expand their abilities – whether that means improving upon skills they already have, building entirely new ones, or both. For that reason, it’s helpful to get an idea of where you’re starting. 

Solicit candid feedback from the people you work with to understand the areas where you excel and where you can get better. If you need a framework to make this easier, use the Johari window to understand what traits other people see in you and how those differ from how you perceive yourself. You can also revisit previous performance reviews or other feedback conversations to get a better grasp on your strengths and weaknesses. 

The goal here is to build your self-awareness. But, keep in mind that you don’t need to address all of your improvement areas to embody a growth mindset. Rather, choose the ones that will be most impactful for you, your career, and your team. After all, growth really only matters when it’s meaningful to you. 

2. Set stretch goals

Take a look at the SMART goal framework and you’ll see that a goal should be achievable. But achievable doesn’t mean easy – and a seemingly daunting goal can be the push you need to challenge your limits and develop your skills even further.

Those lofty targets are called stretch goals and they’re far more motivating (not to mention satisfying) than objectives that feel like gimmes and easy wins. You set your stretch goals concurrently with your regular goals so you understand what it takes to meet expectations and what it takes to exceed them.

And if you ultimately miss the mark on your stretch goal? Well, that’s an opportunity for you to learn from that defeat — another hallmark of a growth mindset.  

3. Learn from your wins and losses

Most of us are embarrassed when things don’t go according to plan, and we’re understandably eager to separate ourselves from that snafu as quickly as possible. But having a growth mindset means viewing failure as part of the learning process, not a sign of your ineptitude and inadequacy. 

Try to avoid sweeping your missteps and bungles under the rug in the interest of moving on as quickly as possible. Instead, take some time to sit with a failure and understand what contributed to it. 

There are a variety of retrospective techniques you can use to look back. And, while retrospectives are commonly used in a team context, you can use them individually as well to reflect on your own projects, progress, and performance. 

4. Choose the right company

The people you spend time with have a big impact on your own beliefs and behavior. If you surround yourself with people who have doubts or limiting thoughts about their abilities, you’ll inevitably start to apply the same thought processes to yourself. It’s called the chameleon effect.

Instead, seek out people who already have a growth mindset so you can learn from their approach and soak in their ambition and energy. 

This is admittedly tougher to do if your entire team has a fixed mindset and the team culture is saddled with a lack of confidence. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to foster a growth mindset on your team too. 

which mindset drives your team?

How can you tell if your group has a growth mindset? Use the four “Ts” to find out:

  • Tracking vs. trust: How does your team evaluate productivity and value? There’s tracking (measuring output, work hours, and boxes checked) or trust (believing that teammates will work on what is important because everyone is working toward a shared goal). A fixed-mindset team defaults to tracking, while a growth-mindset team defaults to trust.
  • Top-down vs. transparency: How does information flow within your team? Fixed-mindset teams use a top-down flow, where decisions, responsibilities, and priorities come from leadership. Growth-mindset teams use a transparent approach, where key information needed for decision-making is available to all. 

How to cultivate a growth mindset on your team

As a leader, if you notice that your team has a fairly rigid view of their capabilities, there are some steps you can take to help your team embrace a growth mindset. 

1. Start slow

Some teams operate successfully within a fixed mindset, especially those with predictable duties and workflows. If that’s true for your team, it might not be appropriate to call for a complete overhaul of your ways of working – but you can start with some small changes to cultivate a growth mindset.

One easy place to start is with knowledge sharing. Even with fixed duties or workflows, providing information to everyone on the team and company about how your work gets done will set your team up for growth.

2. Measure outcomes, not hours

Growth-minded individuals like being judged on outcomes, not vanity metrics like work hours. There’s even a term for this: trust-based working.

Dr. Michael Ilgner, Global Head of Human Resources at Deutsche Bank, explained it this way in an interview with the World Economic Forum: “The old way is where you come in, work your time, and leave again. But this way, you hand over the responsibility to people. You set them a task — ‘By tomorrow, we want to have that strategy done’ — then leave it up to them how effectively they use their time.”

3. Prioritize psychological safety

What does psychological safety mean, anyway?

It’s hard to have a growth mindset without normalizing and embracing failure. But your team won’t feel like they have permission or support to innovate and evolve if there’s stigma, shame, or judgment attached to failing.

It’s important to cultivate psychological safety on your team so that people feel free to take risks, ask questions, and try new things without the fear of ridicule or reprimands. You can do this by:

  • Modeling vulnerability as a leader
  • Hosting retrospectives to learn as a team
  • Commending efforts instead of just results

So, do you not know how to climb a mountain? Or do you not know how to climb a mountain yet? There’s a big difference between those two questions, and therein lies the magic of a growth mindset.

When you embrace a future-focused model, you commit to learning and improving – even when it comes with its fair share of mistakes and humbling moments. And it’s in those experiences that you and your team see most clearly what you’re capable of – and eventually reach your peak (pun intended). 

Special thanks to Kat Boogaard for her contributions to this article.

How (and why) you should embrace a growth mindset