Before they can manage the ever-evolving and complex demands of business today, leaders first need to have a good understanding of themselves – their strengths, their weaknesses, their values, their aspirations and more. The same holds true for workplace teams: success is built on a foundation of self-awareness about team culture.
But what comes after that self-awareness? How do leaders and teams translate such knowledge into action? And which strategies help them do so most effectively?
Our recent research into the long-term benefits of education for a growth mindset identified a number of competencies that such programmes help to develop. And our interviews with study participants – all Hult International Business School MBA graduates who had a few years earlier completed a growth mindset course – illustrated how those competencies enable better ways of working for individuals, teams and organisations.
Our findings boiled down to this key: A clear sense of self makes it possible for people to actively manage their behaviour, and this allows them to be more effective in their work.
“This high level of self-awareness and active approach to self-management helped participants to better understand their behavioral competencies and associated development areas, and relatedly, how they could use challenging situations as opportunities for development,” we write in our research paper “Mindset Matters: Why growth mindset is key to organisational success”.
In the MBA growth mindset programme, participants took part in lectures and experiential learning aimed directly at enabling behavioural change. The course not only sought to develop participants’ self-awareness of their capabilities, but also worked to enable them to design and put into practice a development plan to strengthen their competencies.
Our research found that developing a growth mindset paves the way for self-improvement in three ways: via purpose, passion and practice.
Purpose, which falls within the realm of cognition, enables clarity of thought and clear vision. This supports self-awareness, self-management, relationship- and network-building and an active approach to learning.
Passion, meanwhile – described more broadly as affect – stimulates motivation, aspiration and positive energy that can be used productively in the workplace.
Finally, a growth mindset reveals itself in practice when people use their self-awareness to act with purpose. This includes listening to learn, communicating to connect and demonstrating cognitive curiosity, agility and adaptability. It also shows in actions that “feed back to feed forward” -- that is, seeking out feedback to use for further self-development, as well as to help others with development.
One study participant told us that developing a growth mindset revealed that “what really makes the difference between a professional who is just average and an exceptional professional is his or her soft skills. How she or he relates with the other peers, how he or she understands the strategy, how she builds relationships, how they work and how they work in teams, how they execute.”
Another described how self-awareness enabled team building and ongoing improvement efforts through regular feedback: “Every month we gather around and then we assess each other including myself. So what happens is that all six of us would sit in a table and discuss how this person is doing, what are your strengths? What are your areas of improvement and what can you do about your problems or, you know, this is just basically an open book conversation.”
Our research demonstrates that leaders with a growth mindset contribute to overall greater effectiveness in the workplace. And engaged leaders have also been found to lead to improved attitudes to work and a sense of well-being among individuals and teams.
“Engaging leadership is a style of leadership that shows itself in respect for others and concern for their development and well-being; in the ability to unite different groups of stakeholders in developing a joint vision; in supporting a developmental culture; and in delegation of a kind that empowers and develops individuals’ potential, coupled with the encouragement of questioning and of thinking which is constructively critical as well as strategic.”
Leaders with a growth mindset enable many knock-on benefits for the people and organisations they work with, including improvements in purpose, passion and practice. This contributes not only to stronger, more effective teams but to more resilient and agile businesses better able to cope with any challenges the future might bring.
As Kotter & Heskett noted (1992), “only cultures that can help organisations anticipate and adapt to environmental change will be associated with superior performances over long periods of time.”
By cultivating growth mindset thinking, organisations can reap dividends far beyond their initial investments and efforts. They can begin by creating a learning culture at work that encourages people to share knowledge and collaborate. They can also help people to understand that challenges can be opportunities for development, and that the giving and receiving of honest feedback can promote the building of new skills and capabilities that are valuable in today's fast-changing business world.