Updated: Dec 31, 2020
In the seminal 2006 book, “mindset”, Dr Carol S Dweck introduced many of us to the growth versus fixed mindset for the first time.
In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They believe that talent alone creates success.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point.
The author compares the two mindsets in a number of settings including elite sports, leaders in business, relationships and education. In the business section, she dissects a number of large organisations including Enron and talks about the obsession for talent that ultimately led to their downfall. This resonated with me as I worked at Enron Europe up until the administrators took over the company at the tail end of 2001.
“My genius not only defines and validates me. It defines and validates the company. It is what creates value. My genius is profit.”
As Dr Dweck says “…a radical extension of the fixed mindset.” Wow!
War for Talent
It goes without saying there is increasingly a competitive landscape for retaining and recruiting talented professionals – a war for talent is occurring whilst there are rapid change and global growth. Consequently, many CEOs cite their concern and priority to address a shrinking pool of talented leaders available to run their complex and global businesses. This strikes me as a fixed mindset whereby the assumption is the pool of talent is at best static but often cited as shrinking.
Perhaps these CEOs are focused on hiring external talent based on the person’s past performance (which is hard to accurately validate) and which occurred in a different organisation and culture. This can be effective and sometimes maybe the best way to solve an urgent problem, but it is exacerbating the war for talent and reinforcing the negative (and false) message of a shrinking pool of talented leaders.
With a growth mindset, the focus is on improving the capability and performance of professionals enabling them to level-up and lead. It requires a consistent and longer-term approach, investing for the future, to help the already successful and talented professionals become even more successful.
The growth mindset view of the talent pool for leaders in business is one that is actually growing not shrinking. The investment in the leadership skills and capabilities of professionals will continuously create new leaders not recycle the existing and more established ones.
create new leaders, don't always recycle existing ones
There is no single best way to do this as people learn differently and have a range of strengths and weaknesses. Having the growth mindset is key and along with self-awareness will help to spot opportunities to develop new skills and capabilities. Growth mindset leaders will:
Do their utmost to give their teams what they need to succeed
Empower their people and give them responsibility and stretch assignments
Think about their people in terms of potential not just historic performance
Support diverse opinions and ideas and encourage challenge and speaking up
Thereby improving the depth and quality of their leadership bench so that the automatic reaction to a skills gap is to fill it by promoting within. Invest and grow the pool of leadership talent, in this case, don’t recycle!
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