We all know that managing a group of people doesn’t necessarily make you a leader. Even being one of the best managers still doesn’t make you a leader. So, what is a leader?
A leader is someone who can inspire and mobilize people towards reaching a shared vision or goal. They manage people at a strategic level and must be able to adapt their thinking, behavior and mindset as the context changes. And here is the key issue: too many leaders aren’t comfortable with changing themselves. Research has shown us that at a certain point in life, human beings start to believe that, while they have grown a lot to get to where they are, they’re not going to change much moving forward. With age, we tend to avoid entering into a growth conversation with ourselves. I’ve spoken to countless leaders who have worked so hard to get to where they are and make it past so much “competition” that they find it hard to see (and understandably so) that there is still room for improvement at the top of the pyramid. These people are multi-talented, focused and highly accomplished -- which is what got them promoted so many times. It is hard for them to always see themselves as a work in progress. They lose a growth mindset, a critical skill for leaders. Founded on research by Carol Dweck, a growth mindset is the belief that abilities (such as intelligence and talent) can always be developed and cultivated through hard work and effort. On the other hand, the belief that one is born with set abilities is called a fixed mindset. Given today’s unpredictable, disruptive and rapidly changing world, the only way to stay “stable” is, for organizations and people, to be resilient, quickly grasp changing and foggy situations, and be able to think and act ahead of the curve. All this means drawing on growth-focused behaviors – flexibility, curiosity, openness, perspective taking, iterative thinking, the ability to receive and understand data (feedback) of all kinds, and having enough humility to respond. These are the keys to sustainable leadership.
The problem is that while this concept resonates with most leaders on an intellectual level, what we often miss is that to develop a growth mindset we actually need to work on ourselves. We need to ask: How do I become more open to learning more about myself? To be curious about what I can learn? Because the truth is that mindset changes hap- pen on an individual level – individual habits, adjustments and contributions. These micro-efforts become scalable throughout the organizations because the effects of changed personal behavior are contagious and will ripple out. Only the truly confident, brave and humble can become (and stay) what Satya Nadal of Microsoft calls a “learn-it-all” rather than “know-it-all” leader. Unfortunately, when leaders don’t see that we need to grow and transform, in order to grow and transform our organizations, all we will see is a multiplication of growth jargon and hype throughout organizations, but with little or no change. So, a potentially game-changing mindset transformation is often reduced to annoying verbiage. As the old adage tells us, actions really do speak louder than words. So how can you, as a leader, further develop your growth mindset?
1. Work on Yourself. It’s hard to maintain a sense of who you are when you are called to answer to so many different kinds of problems on many different fronts. So, keep asking yourself questions, and get feedback. How do I respond to certain things? Why did I respond in that way? How do I handle issues/people/things that are uncomfortable? How do I handle not being comfortable with or not knowing something? Actively seek feedback and work on yourself. The more open leaders are with showing that they desire feedback and constant improvement, the more likely that the organization with follow suit.
2. Zoom out. Take some time to get a higher-level perspective. Take a step back and look at the 360° context – what will this problem look like in a month? In a week? Who else should I talk to in that context? This type of deep thinking allows for better clarity and provides an opportunity to model how to process and react without fear to decision making in ambiguous or changing situations.
3. Intentionally seek out perspectives, ideas, people and skills that are not your own. Take a moment to think: who’s perspective am I not taking here? Who would disagree with this and what would be at the root of that disagreement? Actively encourage opposing viewpoints and alternative perspectives to avoid group think.
Sustainability and growth in leadership practices are critical as the world seems to spin faster and faster. We know that growth and resilience are closely correlated. We know that cultivating a growth mindset, and ultimately benefitting from it, means that leaders need to personally own the fact that they may not know everything and that the more they can grow, adapt and change personally, the better they can help their organizations to grow. We just need to take the first step. With ourselves. This article is and updated and adapted version of an article by the author that previously appeared in Forbes.com