Leadership

Carol Dweck’s 2006 book Mindset has become a popular read, particularly amongst those in the education field. Dweck’s book outlines two competing philosophies on intelligence and other personality traits. One group believes that these traits are determined genetically and that a smart person will always be smart and an unintelligent person will always be unintelligent. This, Dweck refers to as a “fixed mindset”. The antithesis of the fixed mindset is the “growth mindset” whereby one’s innate traits or “gifts” are merely a starting point that can be positively developed in the right environment or even decreased in the wrong setting. People who have a fixed mindset constantly need to prove that they are a certain way while people with a growth mindset are more concerned with developing what they have.

To illustrate this point, Dweck describe a hypothetical scenario in which, among other minor calamities, subjects get a C+ on a midterm in a class they enjoyed. The fixed mindset people looked at the grade as evidence of their failure as a student and even, as a human being. The fixed mindset people’s coping mechanism in this scenario was either to disengage from the class or to drown their sorrows in booze, chocolate or sad music. Subjects with a growth mindset, however, would see the mediocre grade only as evidence that they had not studied hard enough or studied in an effective way for the test. There are no greater implications regarding one’s value as a student or ability to do the work. In this case the coping mechanisms of the growth mindset people were also more directly related to the problem itself, such as talking to the teacher or changing study methods for the next test.

Applying these theories to a business setting, Dweck states that companies can create a culture of fixed versus growth mindsets. She cites Enron as an example of a fixed mindset company in which the quantifiable talent of their employees was prized above all else and there was no room for failure or admitting that anyone was wrong. In this extreme example, the story ended in massive fraud and the company imploded. On the other end of the spectrum were companies with management that viewed mistakes as learning opportunities and valued input from employees, even if some of that input was in the form of criticism. Dweck cites Jack Welsh, the former CEO of General Electric, as an example of this type. Welsh, even while CEO, never stopped visiting the front lines of his factories and listening to what these workers had to say thereby opening the lines of communication and simultaneously upending the elitist view that only those at the top could have good ideas.

The Sunday business section of the New York Times had an interview with Mindy Grossman, the CFO of the Home Shopping Network entitled Are you a Tigger or an Eeyore? In the interview Ms. Grossman states that she only hires what she refers to as “Tiggers”, those who bring energy and inspiration to a workplace, as opposed to “Eeyores” who, presumably, do the opposite. While the traits Ms. Grossman highlights are certainly admirable ones, her characterization is demonstrative of a fixed mindset on her part. She sees being a Tigger as an unmovable personality trait. She does not reflect on what she, as a manager, would have to do to create an environment conducive to Tiggers, she assumes that if she hires Tiggers, they will remain Tiggers. It also does a disservice to the very people Ms. Grossman hires by having them define themselves in this way. As in the Enron example, these labels have the potential to make these new employees less likely to work on developing and enhancing their Tigger qualities.

While we use a different language to approach the subject, CREW is, in many respects, a way to foster a workplace with a growth mindset. CREW opens channels for Tiggers to challenges the Eeyore-ness of coworkers and bring them along to a more energetic and inspiring worldview. A work environment that creates opportunities to develop and enhance traits and skills like those Grossman seeks in her potential hires happens when there is open and honest communication habits among people who work together rather than processes that allow people to drift along in isolation or in cliques.


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