Understanding and developing growth mindsets to achieve greatness

Earlier this month some of the most highly-rated Agile Australia workshops returned for Agile Encore in Sydney. Today’s guest blogger, Isabel Nyo, participated in How to lead by enabling growth mindsets, a full day workshop led by UNSW Associate Professor Peter Heslin. 

“You are a superstar.” “You are so smart.” “You are brilliant.”

Ever heard of those phrases? I am sure we all have. Some more often than others. And what happens when those words are said to us? We feel awesome, we feel great, and sometimes, we even feel a little special.

I am guilty of using those words often. Especially to my loved ones and to my team members. My reason is pretty simple: I care about them and I want to support them and acknowledge them when they do a good job. However, I didn’t really understand what other side effects those words could have until I participated in “How to lead by enabling growth mindsets”, a workshop led by Associate Professor Peter Heslin.

So what effects do those phrases have? Research has shown that when we are often told that we are brilliant or awesome, we start to think we possess innate abilities and skills in certain areas. We start to think we were born with talents that help us to achieve great results.

One might argue that there is nothing wrong with thinking we were born with talents. But the thing is, if we believe we are amazing, we become so scared to lose our special status that we become risk-averse. We are reluctant to take risks. I can so relate to this personally because I always knew I was afraid of failure. I wanted to get things right the first time. And while it is possible to get things right the first time, it limits possibilities and opportunities. It limits the amount and level of risks I was willing to take. In other words, this is a ‘fixed mindset’ approach, where I consider skills and intelligence to be innate – things that we were born with. If I wasn’t good at a task, I didn’t want to take on the responsibility of doing it because I was afraid of failure.

So now with my new understanding and belief that anything can be learned and that one can become great at most things as long as there are correct strategies and processes in place for learning, I feel quite empowered. I feel less disappointment. I feel energetic. I feel ready to be challenged even if the chance of success is slim.

Having a growth mindset could have a profound impact on anyone’s life, and I would like to share how I plan on applying my learning from the workshop to develop and cultivate growth mindsets.

When I am saying you’re brilliant/amazing to others, I will remember to add “because” and give reasons for these statements. This is very important to me as both a parent and a leader in encouraging growth mindsets. For example, I usually tell my daughter that she is great at gymnastics. But from now on, I will tell her that, “you’re great at gymnastics because you went to every training class without fail and followed instructions from your teacher”.

When I feel frustrated with myself or someone else for not getting things right the first time, I will remember that skills are not necessarily innate, and sometimes there is simply further to go in the learning journey before we master the skill. I will encourage myself and others to learn from failures and think about how we can do things differently to get them right.

When I see that myself or others are scared to take on a challenge, I will remind myself and others to think of something we are good at and reflect on how we become good at it. For example, I’m good at time management and this is because I have actually studied and taken courses on time management and getting things done. I have a clear system that works for me and apply what I have learnt in my day-to-day life.

When I find myself saying “I can’t do X because I’m not good at it”, I will remember that I am probably not good at X because I haven’t learned how to be good at it and I haven’t put in enough time and/or effort. For example, I often say I am not good at networking but the reality is that I have never tried to be good at it. My excuse was that being an introvert, I am just not good at mingling and connecting with others. However, deep down I knew this was not true. The reason why I am not good at networking is because I don’t learn how to network, I don’t expose myself to situations requiring networking. Not only do I not practice this skill, but I deprioritise it as I’d rather spend my time and energy elsewhere. So now, rather than saying I can’t do networking because I’m not good at it, I will say I don’t enjoy networking and I prefer not to do networking.

And last but not least, when I find deficiencies in my capabilities and face setbacks, rather than taking the easy way out and quitting, I will remember that hard work, dedication and strategies are necessary to achieve greatness in any area, and it is the actions we take that will help us to learn and grow and become better versions of ourselves.

This blog was originally posted here.

If you’re feeling inspired and missed out on this year’s AgileAus workshops, you can check out Barry O’Reilly’s Lean Enterprise workshops – running in December 2016 – or get a head-start and sign up for AgileAus 2017’s workshops

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