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Tim Hebert
October 03, 2016

Agile Leadership: Do You Embrace a Fixed or Growth Mindset?

In my opinion, one of the best business books of all time is Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham.” I know, with all the great business books out there, how on Earth could “Green Eggs and Ham” be my favorite. Humor me for a moment…


We all know and remember the Seuss classic. It follows the lovable character “Sam-I-Am” as he tries to convince his unnamed friend to try a dish of green eggs and ham. His friend continually refuses, retorting: “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.” Spoiler alert: the character ultimately—after much prodding—succumbs and tries the fanciful dish, discovering he does, in fact, like green eggs and ham.

I remember feeling like “Sam-I-Am” early in my career. I was rolling out a change initiative in a company that was struggling financially. As I explained the required change to my team, my best employee told me that if I continued with this crazy idea she would quit. However, I pressed on with my change efforts, eventually reducing our cost structure by over $1 million while increasing revenues by $3 million. And you know what? My best employee never quit and actually became my change champion.

So why would I consider this a great business book classic? Because at its core, the book elucidates on the importance of embracing a “growth” mindset over a “fixed.”

According to world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, author of the must-read book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” research suggests that people embrace one of two mind types: fixed or growth.

  • Fixed Mindset: Those with a fixed mindset are characterized by intelligence, character and creative ability that is static. These individuals strive for success at all costs, even if that means maintaining a status quo.
  • Growth Mindset: Those with a growth mindset have intelligence, character and creative ability that can be developed. These individuals embrace challenge and view failure as a change to grow, stretch and evolve existing capabilities.

fixed-vs-growth.pngIn the old world industrial economy, a fixed mindset was your ticket to success. We needed to be rigid in our thinking, blindly follow orders and execute highly repetitive tasks. But we are in a new world of advanced economies that mandates a growth mindset. Today, we need to be open, flexible and agile. Let’s dig a little further into each mindset…

Fixed Mindset

Have you ever noticed that the younger the child they have an almost exclusively a growth mindset? What happens along the way to adulthood? Why do some develop fixed mindsets? We all know someone who has a fixed mindset—it might even be ourselves! These are the people who are resistive to change not open to new things. The world they know is what they know and they are OK with that. These are the types of people who may:

  • Handle criticism ungraciously
  • See the glass as half empty
  • View the world as black and white
  • Avoid conversations that could lead to negative feedback
  • Dwell on their limitations rather than their possibilities

As a result, they may never live up to their full potential, instead opting for complacency and comfort. Dweck writes, “Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mindset—creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over.”

The friend of Sam-I-Am had a fixed mindset. He is someone who believes that his personal behaviors, attitudes, characters and qualities should remain unchanged. (Does this sound like someone you know?)

Growth Mindset

Conversely, those with a growth mindset believe they can improve or change their behaviors, attitudes, characters and qualities over time. People with a growth mindset typically:

  • Try new things
  • Remain positive
  • Embrace change
  • Seek to be challenged
  • Strive to learn
  • View challenges as opportunities
  • Don’t need to be confident; they become confident

They constantly strive for ever-greater levels of success, performance and achievement. At the heart of the growth mindset is a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. Which mindset will lead you to greater success both personally and professionally?

The Growth Mindset and The Pygmalion Effect

Dweck’s research demonstrates that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. Those that embrace a growth mindset—or those who seek to—can take advantage of what researchers Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson refer to as The Pygmalion Effect, a phenomenon that states that higher expectations lead to an increased level in performance. Conversely, lower expectations lead to a decreased in performance. One of their original research projects involved giving a group of elementary school students intelligence pre-tests.

Rosenthal and Jacobsen handed the teachers a list of names of students in the school who demonstrated “unusual potential for intellectual growth” and would enjoy greater success over the next year. They then left the teachers to their own devices.

What’s amazing is that the investment these teachers then made in these students—and the investment the students made in themselves with their teachers’ newfound support—resulted in those students scoring significantly higher on that same test eight months later.

What the teachers did not know is that these students had actually been selected randomly—not based on test scores. Yes, all scores improved significantly regardless of their intelligence level and potential for growth.

The Pygmalion Effect is a great validator of the importance of having a growth mindset. As the research found, if we open our minds up, have self-belief and strive for greater performance, we can in fact achieve it.

Changing Your Mindset

For the past few months, I’ve been talking quite a bit about the importance of change at both the personal and professional level and explored a number of reasons change is so difficult. Having a fixed mindset is yet one more barrier to ushering change along.

We all struggle with change, no matter our mindset. You can choose to be like the main character in Green Eggs and Ham and subscribe to a fixed mindset. Or you can be more like Sam-I Am and embrace growth. It’s your choice.

So how do you do become more like Sam-I-Am?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series as we explore the steps to changing your mindset! 

View Tim's contributor profile

This post was originally featured on the Atrion blog.


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