Picture yourself standing in front of a middle school classroom with a group of frustrated students attempting to solve a complex math problem. As their teacher, it is your responsibility to mold their mindsets, and help them build the confidence to face challenges and approach tough questions, but how do you go about it?  

I spent my early career studying education and attempting to answer this very question while also lesson planning for 7th-grade Biology. As an educator, I felt it was my responsibility to not only focus on the content I was teaching but, just as importantly, to help build mental toughness and determination as life skills that my students would need as they become adults.  

Though I was competing with the typical teenage gossip and drama that poisons classroom culture, I observed that the approach to learning was just as important as the learning itself. Imagine if your managers could apply this pedagogy to your employees’ growth. Think about potential opportunities and outcomes for your organization’s culture. Investing in the mindset of your organization’s workers will shift the entire approach to tasks and actions, resulting in more thoughtful engagement and productivity. Managers manage people, but transformational leaders influence mindsets. Encouraging your leaders to coach their people to apply a growth mindset to their work will significantly enhance their development and prepare them for the challenges ahead. 

The first step is understanding growth mindset and how this differs from a fixed mindset. With a fixed mindset, the belief is that talent and competencies are set with very limited ability to change. This mentality of permanent traits and inflexibility directly correlates to stubbornness, fear, and feelings of inadequacy. Employees will clock in only to deliver their expected responsibilities and leave their potential at the door. It is so easy to get locked into autopilot mode and get lost in routine, resulting in a fixed mindset as our default setting.  

In shifting to a growth mindset, employees can comfortably explore their roles believing their development matters and that adaptability and creative problem-solving will be supported. Encouraging a growth mindset invites employee potential to flourish without fear of mistakes, knowing there is value in the learning process.  

But, in a fast-paced, results-driven workplace, is a culture of growth mindset possible? Laying the foundation for supporting employee development is a time-consuming effort where setbacks and mistakes are common. However, the psychological significance of building a company culture where your people can bring their whole, true selves to the table while feeling safe and valued makes the investment worthwhile. 

How can managers and people leaders embrace the learning process with their employees and help them understand the value of adopting a growth mindset? According to Marga Biller’s “Learning Better from Work: Three Stances That Make a Difference,” we can view our mindset within three progressive stances: Completion, Performance, and Development. First, we identify the Completion stance, where the goal is to check the box and get past the task. This approach is intended to yield very little learning yet expedite the process to move on to the next item on the list. With full plates, this stance likely avoids additional challenges for the sake of prioritizing productivity and output. Moving to the Performance stance, the result holds more weight, and the action is driven by the success and quality of the outcome. Most project initiatives tend to live in this stance with an activated mindset that recognizes the importance of a job well done. But, stopping to examine the process in completing those tasks and the intentionality behind the behaviors and skills, shows that learning can occur during this second stance. In the Performance stance projects and tasks cannot be completed passively, and the mental agility built through overcoming challenges can sharpen skills and influence the approach taken to similar tasks in the future.  

Approaching tasks within the third stance, Development, is defined by the intention of learning and growing from the process. There is tremendous value in the execution experience when individuals encounter setbacks and failures. The Center for Creative Leadership’s seminal research, The Lessons of Experience, explores how facing an initial lack of success with resilience will lead to developing effective leadership skills that prepare individuals for what’s ahead. 

The keys to the Development stance are the mental toughness and security to embrace the discomfort and analyze behaviors and actions. Reflecting on the process and concentrating on introspection will identify gaps, highlight best practices, and strengthen mindset malleability. While not every task can realistically be completed in the Development stance, we can make every effort to search for takeaways from each opportunity. Prioritizing employee development can be as simple as coaching for the right mindset so long as the structure is in place to support the learning process.  

Transforming your culture to one that embraces a growth mindset does not happen overnight.  It requires the commitment and intentionality of leaders to prioritize learning as a part of the work and the workplace. When employees feel invested in and valued for their growth, that appreciation will directly manifest in engagement, commitment, and results. It is imperative for managers who coach for performance and mindset to acknowledge that team members need to feel heard, understood, and involved.  As managers engage their teams in ways that create dialogue, they are building a respectful and psychologically safe workplace.  This open-minded concept that avoids fear of failure cultivates determination and perseverance for overcoming challenges or conflicts in everyday tasks and responsibilities. Creating an environment of safety and belonging will allow growth mindsets to thrive and retention and engagement numbers to soar. The reality is that the workplace is not all that different from the classroom.   

How are we pushing ourselves and others to grow, develop, and adapt to the constant changes in the workplace and marketplace? If we are expecting employees to deal with issues as they arise but are not encouraging and reinforcing the shift to a Growth Mindset in even the most mundane circumstances, we are not preparing the organization to navigate problems successfully. From a leadership capabilities perspective, it is critical to equip managers to be effective coaches and teachers for the betterment of employee experience and development. Prioritizing these transformational efforts will reap tremendous rewards for the organization culturally and will open the door to unleashing the unlimited potential of the employees.