Mindset and Leadership

One of the most popular posts on this blog is entitled, “leaders are born, not made“.  I was intentionally controversial in that post, because I actually don’t believe that leadership is an innate talent, any more than intelligence is innate or that any other ability is something that blossoms without lots of hard work and practice. (Just look at the name of this blog… I think you get the picture).

So a couple of weeks ago while waiting for a train from Toronto back to London, I was killing some time in the Eaton’s Centre Indigo book store when I ran across Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset“. Based on thirty years of research, Dweck believes that we have one of two mindsets about our abilities – the first that ability is fixed and the second, that ability can be grown or developed, no matter our initial gifts or traits. Her research shows that people with a fixed mindset experience a number of differences from those with a growth mindset. Fixed mindset people are more likely to over-estimate their abilities, more likely to be depressed, less resilient, less likely to take on challenges that might disprove their ability, and more likely to show reduced performance after a failure. She has also shown that people can be taught a growth mindset, and when taught growth mindset, performance will improve.

The so called talent mindset, and the “War for Talent” has done the business world a great disservice, as I noted in a previous post. This view assumes that people have a fixed ability and that you have to recruit and develop only the most talented people. Research suggests that you pay more and get less when you take this approach. Organizations that adopt a fixed mindset with respect to intelligence (think Enron, McKinsey, etc) may have happy employees when things are going well, but what happens when the environment is difficult? The fixed mindset generally does not demonstrate resilience.

When we are open to believing that we can get better at anything it leaves us open to opportunity and challenge, not afraid of it. It leave use open to learning. It leaves us open to experience.  All of which develop leaders.  So the next time someone asks you whether leaders are born or made, perhaps the best answer is “yes”.

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