Leading On The Edge - Fixed, Growth, and Performance Mindset

I am standing on a dime-thin edge of rock, four hundred feet off the ground, and twenty feet above my last point of protection in the rock. My heart is racing and my leg muscles are beginning to shake (we call this Elvis-leg in climbing jargon), I need to focus, slow down, breathe, and engage fully. My mind races about the 'what-ifs' and the risks - I need to focus and commit. I need to perform, now.

The reality is that I didn't need to perform right then. This was a practice run for my upcoming rock climbing guide's exam and I was scouting one of the possible routes that could be on the exam. I didn't need to perform at that moment, but I did need to replicate the exam as accurately as possible and practice performing. I needed to practice the muscle memory of gaining and staying in the zone.

It's easy to stay out of the zone; stay in a place of complacency or "just enough" engagement. A place where as leaders we can perform our roles, keep momentum flowing, support our teams, but not extend ourselves too far. It's within our professional abilities to maintain our roles without taking real risk and without raising the bar of personal excellence. It's incredible easy to stay in that place of moderation.

This year I chose to push my professional boundaries and become a candidate for my next level rock climbing guide national certification. It would have been incredibly easy not to do this. I have sacrificed countless hours of practice, training, and lost revenue in the preparation of this exam and there is no guarantee whatsoever that I will pass. Why do it then? The growth and performance mindset transfers directly to my leadership skills.

Committing and fully engaging in the exam preparation enables me to push my limits and test myself against real parameters with real-time feedback. The translation: it is a microcosm experience of how I can show up fully engaged in other areas of my professional and personal life.

The fixed mindset approach would be that my skills are honed and "good enough" for most applications. The growth mindset puts me on the edge, literally, to examine and test myself to perform at a higher standard and push with more clarity towards BHAG goals and endeavors. The performance mindset is the moment of action, the moment of bringing the growth mindset into reality.

How can you, as an individual and leader, maintain a growth mindset and give yourself the opportunity to perform? In what areas of your life have you just stopped learning or stopped challenging yourself? Why? What will it take to start pushing forward again? And why wait?

How you interpret challenges, setbacks, and criticism is your choice. You can interpret them in a fixed mindset as signs that the status quo is good enough or that change is unattainable. Or you can interpret them in a growth mindset as signs that you need to ramp up your strategies and effort, stretch yourself, and expand your abilities.

Pick an objective, something just out of reach, something that is a little scary. Take the risk to engage, the risk to fail, the risk to learn. Why are you waiting for an opportunity to perform?

This time next week I will again find myself standing on a dime-thin edge of rock: breathing, focused, and intentional. I will be performing, performing as a result of practiced growth mindset (minus the Elvis-leg!).

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3 Comments

  • chris

    inspiring! thanks for reminding me that comfort is primarily a mindset… a plateau at best, and not the summit

  • Jim Struna

    Great Article Matt, and a good reminder to not stay in the “safe
    zone”. My teams and I deserve
    better.

  • Matt Walker

    thanks Jim! Hope the article provided some "push" out of the "safe zone". By the way, the exam last week went great! I found it actually enjoyable to engage the stress and uncertainty involved and it was fun to push my own personal performance.