Great Management: It’s a Mindset

If you’re trying to become a better manager, it might be time to shift the focus from what you’re doing to how you’re thinking.

When most people think about the word “leader,” what first comes to mind usually isn’t a series of behaviors, but rather a set of traits, a particular person, or a certain type of character.

Worldwide, organizations spend about $356 billion on leadership development endeavors per year, but three-quarters of companies polled admitted that they didn’t find these programs to be very effective.  Recent research by Harvard Business Review suggests that it could be because businesses are overly focused on developing leadership skills and overlooking the importance of a strong leadership mindset.

The key to thinking like a leader, it turns out, is having a “growth” rather than a “fixed” mindset.  In a famous study by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, children were given puzzles or challenging math problems in order to study their reaction.  Some children were excited by a challenge and persevered, while others were easily discouraged and gave up.  When offered the choice between a difficult or easy puzzle, children with a growth mindset chose the challenge, while children with a fixed mindset chose the simple task to avoid failure.  Decades of research later, Dweck concluded that one’s mindset upon encountering a problem is correlated to one’s achievements.

As a leader responsible for your team’s accomplishments, having a growth mindset is crucial.  Here are some tips on how to cultivate a growth mindset:

1. Don’t be afraid of a challenge

Aversion to risk is also aversion to accomplishing something unprecedented.  Don’t allow fear to hold you and your team back from innovation, and don’t sit around waiting for the “perfect moment” to take action, because odds are low that moment will ever come along.

2. Use failures as an opportunity to learn

When a project doesn’t go as planned, your attitude greatly influences your team’s attitude.  Try to focus on the positive: What did you learn from this failure?  How could these lessons help you achieve success next time around?

3. Develop as many people as you can

There’s room for more than one at the top.  Rather than focusing on a few individuals to help mentor, try to grow as many of your team members as you can.  A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and your team is only as good as your weakest employee.

4. Stop complaining

Maintaining a negative attitude is easier than a positive one, so an unmotivated leader can quickly bring the energy of the whole team down.  Work on avoiding negative comments to boost your team’s morale, and don’t be afraid to have a chat with employees who you feel might be spreading a negative mindset.  Focus on what resources you do have or what projects you can do instead of focusing on what you don’t have or can’t do.

5. Seek feedback

Great bosses aren’t afraid of criticism.  Leaders with a growth mindset won’t get self-defensive at a less-than-glowing review from an employee.  While it’s hard not to become emotional when being critiqued, try to step back and realize that staff comments are not a personal attack, but simply suggestions about how you could lead better at work.  They’re an excellent opportunity to learn from your team and become an even better manager.  Even if the comments are bitter, face the fact that a negative office culture may be to blame and that you as a manager are responsible for helping change this.

The effects of fostering a growth mindset reverberate through your office.  Carol Dweck found that, in organizations that foster a growth mindset, half of employees are more likely to say their coworkers are trustworthy and over a third are likelier to report feeling loyalty to their company.

Every leader fails now and then.  If you want to grow from these failures and become an excellent manager, the best approach is to manage your mindset.