Can you really ever get anyone else to change? For those of us in leadership, the answer to that question had better be a resounding ‘yes’. However, the degree to which we are successful in getting other people to change is certainly a different question altogether! In this post we will investigate the one critical question that will determine your success or failure in leading others to change. Often when we conduct our signature LeaderShift Live Workshop participants are confused when we ask them if they ‘Celebrate failure to the extent that ongoing learning takes place.’ Their confusion stems from the fact that most high achieving leaders would never consider celebrating failure. Failure is to be avoided at all costs! And yet we know that almost every success we have experienced in life involves learning, and in many cases, mistakes. So while we ultimately do not want to fail, we recognize their will be small failures along the way in any undertaking. So, while it may sound strange to you, in order to get another person to change you need to create the expectation of failure – not of the entire change process but that there will be failure along the way. This leads us to a fundamental question: How do we (as leaders) approach the change/failure dynamic – and what might we need to do differently to encourage the team we seek to lead to change more consistently and positively? Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford, has researched this question and finds that there are essentially there two ways that people approach change:

  1. A Growth Mindset: This way of looking at the world says that people (ourselves included) can and do change all the time.
  2. A Fixed Mindset: This way of looking at the world says that people (ourselves included) don’t really change that much at all.

People who have a ‘fixed mindset’ believe that their abilities – and those of others – are essentially static. In other words, we are good at some things and not as talented in other areas. In this mindset your behavior is a good indication of your natural abilities. This leads to an avoidance of challenges because failure would reflect badly on your true ability level. In this case, negative feedback is seen as a threat – and you definitely don’t want to be seen as trying too hard – just in case you fail. That way if you fail – well – you always have the defense that you didn’t try that hard. The ‘growth mindset’ believes that abilities are like ‘muscles’. It’s not that some people are not more talented than others – there is not question that Michael Jordan is a truly talented individual. However, we can and do develop our abilities (and talents) through practice. With a growth mindset you will accept more challenging assignments. You are more likely to accept negative feedback, in fact you may seek it out, because you know that it will eventually make you better. Once you understand this critical difference in mindset you can start to recognize the ways that we inadvertantly reinforce a fixed mindset with others. Here are just a few examples:

  • Telling our kids ‘You’re so smart!’ or ‘You’re so good at_______’
  • Telling employees that they are so good at speaking, presenting, or organizing etc.

So what can we do differently?As leaders, we need to start praising the effort rather than the natural skill. While many leaders will object to this insight – it seems a lttle too touchy feely to many – I am not saying that we should not pay attention to results. Nor am I saying that we should not hold people accountable to results. To the contrary, what we are suggesting is that while you recognize the results (or lack thereof) you attribute the results to the effort rather than talent. Let’s use an example to reinforce this point: Employee A: Does all the right things/the right way but gets crappy results. You know this is because the circumstances that particular week just did not line up correctly. Employee B: Does not do the right things/the right way but gets great results. You know this is because the circumstances that particular week lined up in a way that promoted positive results. Which employee would you rather have in week 2? If you answered ‘A’ then you need to consider how you provide feedback and direction to your employees. In other words – Can you celebrate failure to the extent that ongoing learning occurs? Because if you can’t – then you will surround yourself with fixed mindset team members that have already reached the extent of their potential. And that is not a future that I would wish for you!

We have found that most leaders are frustrated that they experience the same problems day after day. We have a process that helps leaders create a Performance Acceleration Plan so that they can move past those problems and start making radical improvements in their business results. 
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