Shift Your Mindset

Choose “Thrive” Instead of “Survive”

Do you ever wonder why some very smart people don’t live up to their potential? Maybe even you are included in this category. It may come down to… mindset.
Mindset is “an established set of attitudes held by someone,” says the Oxford American Dictionary. It turns out, however, that a set of attitudes needn’t be so set, according to Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford.
Dweck proposes in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, (2006) that everyone has either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. According to this accomplished researcher and Stanford professor, we have the power to shift our mindset from one that barely gets us by to one whereby we thrive.

Open and Closed Mindsets

Everyone has two basic mindsets: open with growth, or closed and fixed.

  1. One mindset is open to learning and changing, believing one can always do better.
  2. The fixed mindset is entrenched in the belief that natural talents and abilities predetermine success.

With an open mindset, people believe they can always learn more, do more, and improve. They are confident, yet humble enough to work harder to expand their potential. They accept criticism as important feedback, not as a personal insult.
With a closed mindset, people believe success is based on their innate talents; thus, they needn’t work hard. They think their abilities are set in stone: either they have them or they don’t. They must prove themselves over and over again, trying to look smart and accomplished at all costs.

Mindset Motivates Behavior

When you have a fixed mindset you:

  • Want to look smart (which means you avoid challenges and avoid the possibility of failure)
  • Get defensive
  • See effort and hard work as fruitless and not worth it
  • Do not listen to criticism (it makes you feel attacked)
  • Ignore useful or even positive feedback
  • Feel threatened and envious when others enjoy success
  • Give up too early, plateau, and never reach your potential

With a growth mindset you always have a desire to learn and improve, so you tend to:

  • Embrace challenges
  • Persist in the face of setbacks
  • See effort and hard work as a necessary path to mastery
  • Learn from criticism and often seek out others’ opinions
  • Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others

When you adopt a growth mindset you reach ever higher levels of achievement. You’re not afraid of risks because they’re part of the learning and growing process.

Mind Shift

Begin by paying attention to all the ways you are using a fixed mindset. You could be applying fixed thinking to your career, sports, and even to your relationships.
To replace a fixed mindset with a growth mindset you’ll need to embrace the things that have felt threatening, such as criticism, setbacks, and challenges. Are you willing to look at these things as learning opportunities instead of threats?
Remember: the first step toward change is awareness. You can’t shift your attitude until you’re aware of the many ways you’re using a fixed mindset.

Three Questions to Shift Your Mindset

Ask yourself these three questions to shift your thinking:

  1. What can I do today that would advance the knowledge and skills I need to be successful at my goal?
  2. What can I learn about this task so I can achieve it?
  3. Who can I ask for help or feedback with this goal?

The difference between successful people and those who are not is often as simple as asking yourself these three questions: what can I do, what can I learn, who can help me?
This is how a growth mindset starts to take hold in your brain. Instead of putting things off, or finding reasons and rationalizations for why you’re not succeeding like you think you should, answer these questions and then make a concrete plan.
It’s not enough to dream, although that helps to form a clear picture of what you want. You also need to visualize and articulate what you’re going to do, when you will do it, and specify the details.
The idea is not only to shift your mindset, but to also get into action. The best mindset in the world is worthless if you don’t follow through.

Recovering From a Closed Mindset

Anyone can change his or her mindset. It requires conscious practice and vigilance, as well as a willingness to be open to learning and changing.
For example: “At 9 a.m. tomorrow, I’ll set that appointment to discuss the situation. I’ll ask questions and receive feedback, without acting defensive. I won’t make excuses. I’ll take in information, be receptive, and thank others for their input. I can decide what to do later.”
Detailed plans that cover when, where, and how you’re going to do something lead to high levels of follow-through and increase your chances of success. Even if you have negative feelings, you must carry through with your growth-oriented plan.

How to Grow Your Mindset

Are you in a fixed or growth mindset in your workplace? Ask yourself the following questions, which will encourage an open mindset:

  1. Are there ways I could be less defensive about my mistakes?
  2. How could I profit more from the feedback I get?
  3. In what ways can I create more learning experiences for myself and my team?
  4. How can I help myself and my team get mentoring or coaching?
  5. In what ways can I create a culture of self-examination, collaboration, and teamwork?
  6. What are the signs of groupthink in my workgroup?
  7. How can I encourage alternative views and constructive criticism?

Put Positive Leadership into Action

Executive coaches and leadership consultants who encourage positive thinking often encounter cynical, hard-driving executives with a close eye on the bottom line.
But positivity coaches have come a long way since author Norman Vincent Peale preached his positive philosophy of faith and miracles. Today’s positive-psychology movement is founded on empirical evidence. Social scientists have documented the benefits of optimism, emotional intelligence and happiness in multiple work settings.
Positive leadership is no longer seen as a feel-good ideal with little bearing on business results. Mounting evidence reveals that leaders who focus on their people’s positive contributions, while concomitantly achieving tough goals through measurable tasks, enjoy higher performance outcomes.
While positive leadership is gaining traction among CEOs and executive teams, it’s often poorly understood and implemented. University of Michigan management professor Kim S. Cameron, PhD, offers a cogent definition of the term in his new book, Practicing Positive Leadership: Tools and Techniques That Create Extraordinary Results (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013):

“Positive leadership refers to the implementation of multiple positive practices that help individuals and organizations achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise.”

Finding the Right Feedback Ratio

A wave of research reveals that “soft”-sounding positive management practices – including conversations focused on dreams, strengths and possibilities – motivate people to achieve higher performance levels. In fact, the more positive the message, the better the outcome.
But managers are charged with pointing out what’s not working and solving real problems – a mandate that presents a potentially frustrating leadership dilemma: How can you focus on the positive when continually required to make corrections?
Richard Boyatzis, PhD, a professor of organizational behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, offers a pragmatic solution: “You need the negative focus to survive, but a positive one to thrive. You need both, but in the right ratio.”
Let’s quantify this ratio. Effective leaders should provide 3-5 positive messages for every negative message they deliver. Your communication must skew heavily toward the positive, without sounding incongruent or inauthentic. If you fail to “accentuate the positive” (to borrow a World War II-era song title), you remain stuck in negative feedback patterns that demotivate your staff.
Barbara L. Frederickson, PhD, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has found that positive feelings expand our awareness of a wider range of possibilities. Instead of looking at what needs to be fixed, we learn to focus on what’s right and needs to be reinforced. When we emphasize positive deeds, using positive language, achievement builds upon itself.
Dr. Frederickson’s psychology research shows that a positive focus bestows greater attentiveness, more flexible problem-solving, enhanced creativity and improved teamwork.

Organizational Positivity

You can identify companies that have implemented positive practices throughout history and compare their mission statements with those of their less successful counterparts.
Positivity clearly appears in mission statements that value societal contributions over the desire to be “No. 1”:
o Ford Motor Company: democratize the auto (1900s)
o Boeing: bring the world into the jet age (1950s)
o Sony: obliterate the image of poor-quality Japanese goods (1960s)
o Apple: one person, one computer (1980s)
Compare those mission statements with the following:
o GE: be No. 1 or 2 in every market we serve
o Walmart: become the first trillion-dollar company
o Philip Morris: knock off R.J. Reynolds as the No. 1 tobacco company
o Nike: crush Adidas
o Honda: destroy Yamaha
Improving your leadership positivity starts with your organization’s mission statement. Ask “why” you and your organization are here; then, ask yourself and your colleagues what you/they want on a deeper level:

  • Which values merit coming to work each day to give your best?
  • How will you inspire staff and customers to make contributions that benefit the world?

Begin to transform your team by attaching everything you say and do to higher goals and values. Leaders, managers and staff become more positive when they pay attention to the language they use. Rephrase statements in a more positive way, without sacrificing honesty or reality.
If you’re in a management position, everything you say – or don’t say – is magnified, making it even more important to boost your positive/negative ratio. Aim for a least a 3:1 (ideally, a 5:1) ratio of positive to negative statements. When you adopt this approach, others will follow suit.

Show Frequent Appreciation

Instead of seizing on what your people do wrong, start to verbally acknowledge what they’re doing right. Track and recognize progress. Most people perform better when they know they’re appreciated, even if it’s only for small wins.
This doesn’t mean you should suppress bad news. Instead, learn to deliver it in ways that are less likely to provoke defensiveness. Your execution will improve with practice. You’ll gain respect and better performance outcomes.

In Search of Best Practices

If we want to staff our organizations with executives who can deliver results and demonstrate superior social skills, we need to start identifying them during the hiring and promotion processes.
Results-oriented executives can learn to improve their social skills by retaining an experienced executive coach. Additionally, organizations can improve their effectiveness by:

  1. Hiring for both technical and social skills
  2. Training equally for social skills and technical savvy
  3. Rewarding goal attainment and displays of social skill
  4. Promoting those who demonstrate social prowess

CEOs and upper management must realize that rewarding achievement alone has its limits. Organizations must provide incentives for behaviors, even when people take risks and “fail up.”

How to Value Your Voices

It can be extremely difficult to express your personal values at work, especially when confronted with questions of right vs. wrong. Issues become thornier when you’re facing a choice between degrees of right vs. right.
While research reveals universal values across cultures, not everyone agrees on what makes a worthy business decision:

  • Honest
  • Respectful
  • Responsible
  • Fair
  • Compassionate

Most of us want to bring our whole selves to work: our skills, ambitions and deeply held beliefs. We will inevitably encounter values conflicts during our careers, particularly when our goals and ideals clash with clients’, peers’, bosses’ and organizational expectations.
We have witnessed egregious managerial and financial misconduct during the first two decades of the 21st century. Employees at all levels assuredly observed ethical lapses, but found it hard to speak up and stop the foreseeable train wrecks. We can list plenty of examples, but none more outrageous than 2008’s financial implosions. Employees had to have known something was amiss, but they danced as long as the music played.
Past attempts at preparing business leaders to act ethically often failed – not because they couldn’t distinguish right from wrong, but because they didn’t know how to act on their values amid opposing pressures.
Many people believe blowing the whistle won’t do any good. And how can they effectively object without assuming personal risk?
Some of us also struggle with framing objections in a rational way, without assuming the role of “morals police.” We simply lack practice in holding values-based discussions.

Giving Voice to Values

In Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What’s Right (Yale University Press, 2010), management expert Mary C. Gentile, PhD, asserts that being aware of ethical issues and analyzing one’s options may be insufficient in today’s complex work environment. Most of us fail to take appropriate values-based actions:

  1. Developing scripts for responding to the “reasons and rationalizations” others give for questionable practices
  2. Developing alternative action plans to questionable strategies
  3. Practicing how to deliver said scripts and action plans without invoking others’ defensiveness

We must confidently flex our moral muscles and habitually speak up to be true to our values. But when a boss wants to alter a financial report, a sales team misrepresents a product or you witness workplace discrimination, you’ll be faced with several key challenges:

  • What should you say?
  • To whom should you say it?
  • When you craft a viable alternative, how can you summon the courage to act on your convictions?

Developing Effective Scripts

Answer the following questions when faced with a values conflict:

  • Which action/decision do I believe is right?
  • Will I encounter arguments against this course of action? (List them, and cite the reasons and rationalizations you’ll need to address.)
  • What’s at stake for the key parties (including those who disagree with me)? What’s at stake for me?
  • What are the most powerful and persuasive responses to others’ reasons and rationalizations? To whom, when and in what context should I make these arguments?

These questions are not about ethical analysis. They’re designed to help you understand the reasons and motivations – rational, emotional, organizational, personal, ethical, unethical – that guide one’s behavior and choices.
Also consider the following when seeking alternative solutions to questionable decisions:

  • Long- and short-term thinking/goals
  • Your organization’s broader purpose (not just the immediate conflict)
  • The assumed definition of “competitive advantage”
  • How you can be an agent of continuous improvement and actionable alternatives vs. the complaint department/morality police
  • Slippery slopes that can become future ethical cliffs
  • How the “game metaphor” affects business culture and decision-making (“It’s just how the game is played”)
  • The costs to each affected party (and how to mitigate them to make your argument more appealing)
  • Whether your target audience is pragmatic (vs. idealistic or opportunistic) – and how you can help them find ways to do the right thing

As you assess the personal risks you’ll take when going against a leader or the group consensus, be sure to weigh the costs of not speaking up.

Preserve Rationality

When a situation impinges on our deepest values, we often leap to a place of righteousness and passion. While it’s tempting to appeal to morality and ethics, you’ll likely be more persuasive and constructive if your appeal is simpler and less emotional.
Develop alternative actions, and present your case calmly and rationally. Don’t remain silent when you care about an issue. Embrace the courage that comes from having a strategy grounded in reality and reason.
We have a choice to speak up when faced with questionable actions – one that becomes more easily accessible when we practice giving voice to our values.