Are great employees born or made? How you answer this question can tell you a lot about your mindset. Your mindset is an established set of attitudes that determine how you view the world.[i] According to psychologist Carol Dweck, your mindset about where your abilities come from — either innate or learned — has important implications for how you approach challenges, process feedback, and appraise successes and failures.2 In this post, we will discuss the benefits of encouraging employees to approach their development with a growth mindset — the belief that abilities can be cultivated with effort — and how SIGMA’s leadership competency framework can provide a scientifically validated model to support leadership development in your organization.
Growth vs. Fixed Mindset
Individuals who adopt a fixed mindset believe their abilities are static and remain the same across time. In contrast, a growth mindset is characterized by the belief that personal attributes are malleable and can therefore be developed with effort and persistence.[ii] Whether you see the world through a growth or fixed mindset can have implications for the way you approach challenges as well as the attributions you make for successes and failures.
Having a fixed mindset generally predisposes individuals to believe that we are all born with a set of abilities and talents that determine our lot in life. In other words, “you either have it, or you don’t.” Although this perspective can result in positive and validating experiences when engaging in activities that may come naturally, people with fixed mindsets tend to avoid challenges and become more discouraged by failure than people with growth mindsets. This self-protective attitude is the result of the fundamental belief that our successes and failures are a reflection of who we are and how we will always be. “I can’t do this” easily becomes “I won’t ever be able to do this” and “I failed” becomes “I am a failure.”
Individuals who have a growth mindset, on the other hand, view their current abilities as merely a springboard. The key to a growth mindset is the belief that incremental improvement is possible with effort. Those individuals with a growth mindset tend to thrive when challenged and are able to view setbacks as learning experiences rather than personal shortcomings. Therefore, with a growth mindset, “I can’t do this” becomes “I can’t do this yet,” and “I failed” becomes “I failed this time.”
The Benefits of Adopting a Growth Mindset at Work
Many of the leading organizations in the world have used growth mindset principles to enhance their business processes, including onboarding, succession planning, and leadership development.[iii] For example, Microsoft promotes the development of a growth mindset by both encouraging employees to take on projects that are considered high risk and rewarding those who can adaptively learn through trial and error.[iv] This is not to suggest that the final product doesn’t matter, rather, this type of exercise encourages employees to explore their creativity and innovation more freely with the aim of making incremental progress towards a successful final product.
Research has shown that this approach is beneficial for both employees and their organizations. One survey of Fortune 1000 companies found that those companies which promoted a growth mindset had employees that were more likely to trust their coworkers, were more committed to their organization, and felt that their company valued innovation.[v] In contrast, employees from companies that embraced a fixed mindset reported that their organization focused its resources on a few “star” employees. Not only can this be harmful to morale, but employees in such organizations also reported feeling less motivated to try new things for fear of failure and were more likely to see coworkers as competitors rather than collaborators.[vi] The findings of this survey have also been corroborated in academic literature, with many studies supporting the positive effect of growth mindset on work outcomes such as persistence of effort, work engagement, effective coaching and feedback practices, and prosocial work behaviors such as collaboration and organizational citizenship behaviors.[vii]
Growth Mindset and SIGMA’s Leadership Competency Framework
The evidence summarized above highlights the positive impact of continued skill development on employees. However, experts warn that organizations often make the mistake of assuming that having a growth mindset means that employees should do “anything and everything.”2 This structureless application of the principles of growth mindset can be overwhelming and demotivating for employees. Like the example from Microsoft illustrates, a growth mindset works best when guided by a purpose or with a specific goal in mind.
Employers can add structure to the principles of growth mindset by applying them within a well-established competency framework. Competency frameworks are a collection of competencies that are important for success in an organization. A competency framework can help organizations systematically identify critical behaviors for employees and provide a strong foundation for employee development efforts. Explore SIGMA’s competency framework to learn more about a ready-made, research-based solution that can be applied across a range of industries. Our model consists of 50 leadership competencies, grouped into four broad categories:
- Cognitive leadership skills
- Interpersonal leadership skills
- Personal leadership qualities
- Senior leadership skills
In alignment with growth mindset principles, each competency in our framework is skills-based and can therefore be developed. Rather than presenting teams with a checklist of essential qualities leaders need to have from the start, our framework gives organizations a robust depiction of skills that can be cultivated to develop better leaders. The comprehensiveness of the framework also ensures that employees at all levels of leadership potential can find development opportunities that speak to them.
SIGMA Can Help
If your organization is looking for systematic, scientifically valid employee development solutions, SIGMA’s competency framework can help you get started. The framework can be flexibly applied to existing structures or used as a foundation for new initiatives. If you’re interested in development opportunities, learn more about our Lunch and Learn Series. SIGMA also offers free resources to help support the development of each leadership competency in our competency framework. For more information about how to start using our competency framework in your organization, contact our consultants below.
Erica Sutherland, Ph.D.
SENIOR CONSULTANT & EXECUTIVE COACH
Erica completed her Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational psychology at Western University. She is a Senior Consultant at SIGMA, where she delivers consulting services and Succession Planning solutions to clients. As a member of SIGMA’s executive coaching team, Erica works one-on-one with leaders to develop talent. She also brings her expertise in measurement and psychometrics to the R&D team, assisting with the development and validation of SIGMA’s many assessments.
Brittney Anderson, Ph.D.
SENIOR CONSULTANT & EXECUTIVE COACH
Brittney is a member of our coaching and consulting team. She brings her expertise in evidence-based practice to provide companies with leadership solutions that meet their needs. Primarily, Brittney helps her clients prepare for their future with succession planning and comprehensive leadership development programs. As an executive coach, she helps leaders hone their skills using a process-based approach to development.
Glen oversees SIGMA’s sales and marketing activities. As a skilled presenter and trainer, he has designed and delivered engaging and entertaining workshops and webinars to help leaders and HR professionals enhance their understanding of how our products and services can be used to realize potential within their organizations.
[i]Mindset. (n.d.). In Miriam Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. Retrieved December 21, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mindset
[ii]Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Publishing Group.
[iii]Grant, H., Slaughter, M., & Derler, A. (2018, July 23). 5 mistakes companies make about growth mindsets. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2018/07/5-mistakes-companies-make-about-growth-mindsets
[iv] Dweck, C. & Hogan, K. (2016, October 7). How Microsoft uses a growth mindset to develop leaders. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/10/how-microsoft-uses-a-growth-mindset-to-develop-leaders
[v] HBR Editors. (2014, November). How companies can profit from a “growth mindset.” Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2014/11/how-companies-can-profit-from-a-growth-mindset
[vi] HBR Editors. (2014, November). How companies can profit from a “growth mindset.” Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2014/11/how-companies-can-profit-from-a-growth-mindset
[vii]Han, & Stieha, V. (2020). Growth mindset for human resource development: A scoping review of the literature with recommended interventions. Human Resource Development Review, 19(3), 309—331. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534484320939739