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Why mindset is a leader’s secret weapon

Harley Weeda, Ninja Expert

5 December 2018

Do you ever feel like you can’t do something? Or that your colleagues or employees are good at one thing but bad at another? These are signs of a fixed mindset, which could tremendously harm you and your company. In this Insight, I’ll share how two leaders with a different mindset impacted me during my years in college.

Teachers as leaders

During my college years I met many leaders: teachers.

In many ways, teachers are not so different from leaders inside a company. After all, if they do their jobs right, teachers help you to excel in whatever class they’re giving to enable you to get your degree. This is much the same as a team leader who helps his team excel to make sure that they achieve company goals.

Unfortunately, in my experience, leaders often do exactly the opposite. They don’t help you to excel, they prohibit you from it. Why? Because of their mindset. 


The impact of a fixed-mindset teacher

In a fixed mindset, people believe their qualities are fixed traits and therefore cannot be changed. These people aim to prove their intelligence and talents rather than working to develop and improve them. 

During my college years, I had more than one teacher with such a mindset. Perhaps the best example of this was a teacher that taught Dutch. Every time he had graded one of our assignments, it didn’t feel like an exciting opportunity for me to learn from my mistakes. Instead, it felt like a moment of fear and public shame. 

He would focus completely on the students’ individual results, while completely neglecting their effort. He even laughed at students with a bad grade. He’d say things like: “you’re never going to get a good grade, are you? Well, I’m not going to help you get there either.” When I felt like I worked hard and got a bad grade, it made me feel stupid. I was starting to believe I couldn’t do better. That this was the best I’d got. 

Even worse, the impact of this teacher’s statements carried over to my other classes. I even started slacking off for most of my classes. Why bother working hard when you will never be good at something right? Why bother if my intelligence is fixed?

The impact of fixed-mindset leadership: “Am I worthless?”.

Photograph by Serkan Göktay via Pexels

Fortunately, there is another way… 

The impact of the leaders and role models we meet in our lives is tremendous.

That’s what I realised when I finally met a teacher with a different mindset during my third year at college. Clearly, this leader, who taught Law, didn’t have a fixed mindset like most of the others. No, he had a growth mindset. 

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

Unlike the others, my new teacher wasn’t focused on the grades I was obtaining. He looked beyond that. It felt like he considered my efforts and was praising me for that rather than my results. He made me believe that I could get better results by putting in more effort. And not once in his class did he make me feel stupid. 


A different leader, a different feeling.

Photograph by Rawpixel via Pexels

He was always focused on enabling us to do better and being of service. He would ask me things like: “Harley, you’re always participating well in class, so why do you have a bad grade? Do you have trouble studying the teaching material? What can I do to help you get better?

Aside of that, he would challenge us in class. He was never simply looking for the right answer, plucked straight from book. He wanted us to think and come up with our own answers. He asked us things like: “how would you solve this and why would you do it like that?” and “what would be the best possible outcome of this issue in your opinion?”. Rarely would a clearly state that our answers are incorrect. He always respected our answers and effort.

I wasn’t aware of the two different mindsets at all back then, but this Law teacher is the reason that I started to believe in myself again. Because of him, I started to believe that I could learn and become better. He made me understand the impact of leadership. And I’m very grateful that I met him. 

If, at any point in the future, I find myself in a leadership position, this is the kind of leader I aspire to be. 


 Applying the growth mindset yourself

In the cases above, I was referring to leaders as teachers. But whether you’re leading students, employees or even your kids… the basic principles of the fixed and growth mindset always apply.

Being aware of these mindsets and trying to apply them wherever you are can make a huge difference. For you personally, and for those who lead. 

Be careful to think about your traits and qualities as things that are fixed. Talent comes with effort. So the next time you think you can’t do something, or you think someone else can’t do something: think again. Being growth-minded means believing that everyone can learn. As a leader, you have the perfect opportunity by helping people learn as you nudge them to take on new challenges. 

And of course: be careful with the way you praise people. Saying that your colleague, child or employee is really good at something discredits his or her effort. Praise like this is likely to put them in a fixed mindset over time, where they aim to prove their talent rather than to improve it.

A better way to praise is by saying something like “that’s amazing, you must’ve worked really hard to achieve that”. Don’t focus on the results, focus on the effort. 

Time to get started!

As you have read in this Insight, the impact of your mindset can be incredible for the people you lead. Simple things, like the way we look at talent and praise, can truly make or break us. 

Yet, most of us show aspects of both the fixed and growth mindset. We may believe we can improve some of our qualities, but not others. That why I challenge you to try and spot the two different mindsets in the people around you. Increasing your awareness is the first step to making real, impactful improvements. 

For more information about the two mindsets, I highly recommend the book Mindset by Professor Carol Dweck. I can honestly say that this book let me look at the world with a completely new perspective and changed my life. 

Thanks a lot for reading my Insight. Good luck!

Harley is Marketing Ninja at Ninjafy and is enthusiastic about exploring other cultures, working out and helping others. Connect with him on LinkedIn. 

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