The Growth Mindset of an Effective Leader

Growth-MindsetWhat distinguishes a potential great leader from one who is mediocre? From my experience as an executive coach in many different industries, some stand out more than others: Those leaders with a growth mindset who use every challenge as a learning goal.

There are leaders who focus almost exclusively on performance. And there are others who emphasize growth and learning as well as results. If two such leaders were in a horse race, I’d put my money on the one who defines his or her learning goals along with performance goals.

Yet many of the managers and leaders I work with are performance driven. They have lists of what they intend to achieve each quarter, often involving numbers:

  • Exceed sales results by 5%
  • Increase bonus by 10% by end of year
  • Improve team productivity 25%
  • Increase shareholder value
  • Decrease customer complaints

Their worth as a leader is judged by achieving these performance goals. These leaders stress accomplishment of performance goals for the people they’re in charge of.

In my mind, they’re missing a key factor that will restrict their own potential: a growth mindset and the ability to set and pursue learning goals for themselves and others.

“The desire to learn is as fundamental to our being as the desire to survive and to enjoy.” ~ Timothy Gallway, The Inner Game of Work, 2001

Learning goals are things like these:

  • Diminish feelings of stress
  • Enhance listening skills
  • Develop empathy skills
  • Improve my coaching skills
  • Facilitate more cohesive team building

Performance goals are, of course, necessary for achieving bottom line results. But remember, the bar is constantly being raised. How will you increase your capacity to perform? If a leader isn’t improving capabilities, then he or she isn’t keeping up.  Learning goals represent the inner game that every leader should be working on. If you’re not learning, you’re stagnating.

Every learning goal has the potential to contribute to countless future performance goals. In a performance-driven culture, achievement is is overestimated at the expense of learning. However, it’s not easy to set learning goals, because a bit of humility is necessary. You have to admit you need to learn and grow. And you have to be clear about which learning goals will have the most leverage.

The second most difficult thing about setting learning goals is to identify where and how learning will take place. Obviously, work itself provides the best laboratory. Other people are needed as well. What questions do you need to be asking in order to learn?

That’s what I’ll explore in my next post. For now, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What do I need to learn that would enhance my performance?
  2. Where and with whom could I ask questions and practice learning these skills?
  3. Who could help me?
  4. What resources are available to me?
  5. How do I like to learn and grow?

I believe two steps are required for anyone who wants to expand their capabilities to learn and grow on the job. First, set learning goals with a coach who can help you get clarity. Second, once you implement an action plan, debrief your learning experience with your coach to maximize change.

Have you thought about your learning goals for this year? Do you have a growth mindset and a clear plan for learning? I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

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