Don’t make up your mind about this until all the facts are in.
Carol S. Dweck, author of Mindset, the New Psychology of Success, contends that your success or failure in life, career and relationships is attributable to a fixed or growth mindset. The fixed mindset believes that your personal qualities – intelligence, personality and character – are set in stone. The growth mindset believes that your qualities can improve with effort and experience.
A fixed mindset can sidetrack your career – especially if you’re working for someone who views his or her subordinates as incapable of growing. Of course, says Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, leaders with a growth mindset are willing to admit when they are wrong and adapt to changing information.
People with a fixed mindset are:
- Inaccurate at gauging their own abilities
- Feel that their intelligence level cannot change
- Are judgmental yet misread other’s ability to grow and change
Perhaps the only thing more challenging for your career than having a fixed mindset is working for somebody who has one. “In a fixed mindset, it’s not just proving you can do the job and you have the skills, you feel you have to prove over and over how smart, talent or infallible you are,” says Dweck. “That can substitute for doing things that stretch you or doing things that are good for the company.”
If you’re interviewing for a position, and you want to avoid working for a fixed mindset boss, see if the manager will let you speak to some of his or her direct reports. Here’s what Dweck recommends that you discover about your potential boss:
- Is this someone who can take critical feedback?
- Is this someone who welcomes the skill of others or feels threatened by them?
- Is he or she a mentor?
- Is this someone who notices or acknowledges when you improve?
- Does this person treat people fairly?
- Does this person focus more on identifying or nurturing talent?
As a job candidate, Dweck says she would look “for whether the person talks about ‘turning loose talented people,’ which is a fixed mindset, versus hiring people with potential and then saying ‘we’re committed to developing their skills.'” Also, she suggests asking the employer about what kind of training and mentoring programs they offer (if any) to employees.
Fortunately, there is a therapy to treat managers with a fixed mindset.
“Some researchers at SMU (Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Tex.) have developed an intervention for managers and leaders,” says Dweck. She cites the work in particular of Assistant Prof. Peter Heslin of SMU’s Cox School of Business, who also conducts research into personality and leadership skills. Dweck says that there are four steps or stages to the treatment. The first step involves awareness – the managers are shown a video and given an article that talks about “how the brain changes and grows when you learn.”
Second, the managers are asked to think about something they excelled at despite their fears that they could never do it. Third, they are asked to name three people they never expected to achieve great success but who did anyway. Finally, Dweck says the managers are asked to draft a letter to a real or hypothetical protégé, “advising them on how to develop their skills, how to surmount obstacles and to use experiences from your own life and your own struggles as examples.”
Dweck says the workshop transforms the managers once they realize that people, including their subordinates, can change. The leaders become more receptive to “critical feedback from their employees,” says Dweck, “because they don’t have to be perfect anymore.”
As you might expect, growth oriented managers are more likely than fixed mindset managers to accept feedback or embrace change. “The irony of a fixed mindset,” says Dweck, “is you want to be so successful so badly is that it stands in the way of going where you want to go.”
Rusty Weston, My Global Career • San Francisco, Ca • firstname.lastname@example.org•www.myglobalcareer.com