Since Satya Nadella took the role of CEO of Microsoft, the company has become focused on what's known as a growth mindset, which is based on the work of Stanford University's Carol Dweck. A growth mindset says when you face a tough problem and are experiencing setbacks, you don't feel like a failure and start assuming that you're not good enough. You see it as a challenge and a learning opportunity.

The opposite is the fixed mindset, a belief that you're only so smart and are limited by your natural abilities. Microsoft believes in the growth mindset so much that Joe Whittinghill, corporate VP of talent, learning, and insights, recently told Business Insider that his company is upping its commitment to it in a big way. All leaders will be asked to follow a new mental approach grounded in the growth mindset called Model Coach Care.

It's exactly as it sounds. Leaders must now show they personally practice the growth mindset with three skills in particular: active role modeling, coaching their employees to be active role models, and showing they care about their employees and their personal growth. My 30-plus years of leadership experience tells me that this is a great framework. But now science has weighed in as well.

A team of researchers, including Carol Dweck, published a new study in September in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that showed that entire organizations have either a growth or a fixed mindset. Whichever the leaders choose to practice flows down to employees and affects how employees see their company and act within it. In other words, a growth mindset at the top becomes a growth mindset for the entire organization. Microsoft has vastly accelerated this by implementing their new management framework. 

And a fixed mindset at the top also sinks its claws into the organization (in a bad way), resulting in feelings that collaboration, teamwork, innovation from risk-taking, and ethical behavior all take a hit, according to the researchers.

It seems like the case for actively fostering a growth mindset was just made ironclad. Here are three ways you can do exactly that at your company.

1. Be conducive to learning.

The extent to which your employees are learning and growing doesn't depend just on the subject matter. It also depends on the extent to which you believe this subject matters.

To prioritize creation of a learning and growth environment requires you, as a leader, to foster learning conditions. This means you must have patience for the learning process and tolerance for mistakes, that you need a "not yet" mindset versus a "you failed" mindset, that you put emphasis on assets, not deficits, and that you enable ownership of ideas by not doing too much for your employees.

2. Be willing to play different teaching roles.

Enabling a learning environment requires you to play different roles. At times you'll want to teach by role modeling, other times you'll want to be a mirror, reflecting back to help employees see themselves and how they're showing up in certain situations. You'll want to be the challenger at times, questioning the status quo and assumptions to help progress learning.

You can also be a sounding board to listen to ideas or a sponsor to help bust barriers, both of which progress learning. The point is to be creative in the number of hats you wear, and to energetically wear them.

3. Promote learning exchanges.

Encourage employees to learn from the past, from mentors, and from each other via share and reapply sessions. You can also personally display an information-sharing habit and provide stimuli for discovery like organized offsites, conferences, trainings, or seminars. Help create habits of continual learning from multiple sources. 

So much growth, in so many ways, can come from taking a page from Microsoft's playbook and fostering a growth mindset. Better get that growing going.

Published on: Nov 21, 2019
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