Growth Mindset | Performance

What Exactly Is a Growth Mindset, Anyway?

Maybe you read about it in an article one day, or heard about it on a podcast. Or maybe your coworker has talked about it around the office, but too much time has passed and so you just keep pretending you understand. In any case, let’s make one thing clear: Anyone can understand, and benefit from, growth mindset.

As NLI defines it, growth mindset is the belief that skills can be improved over time, rather than being fixed from birth. You may never be the best at something, per se, but with a growth mindset you do believe that you can get better. Not only that, using a growth mindset compels you to focus on improving, not proving, yourself to face all future challenges.

What’s a growth mindset good for?

In everyday life, you’re bound to butt up against any number of skills-based challenges. At home, you may consider yourself utterly useless in the kitchen, or all-too-adept at shrinking your favorite garments. Personally, you might resent your lack of time management, personal-finance savvy, or fear of heights. At work, the idea of leading meetings might send you into a cold sweat.

Growth mindset works in all these cases. Granted, it won’t necessarily cure you of the anxiety or apprehension that runs underneath these activities. But it will change how you relate to these weaker spots, and it’s that shift that unlocks your ability to perform. You stop comparing yourself to others, and instead start focusing on one-upping your past self.

The transformational power of growth mindset

NLI’s research around growth mindset shows it affords organizations enormous benefits. One global pharmaceutical company saw a 14% jump in employee engagement since beginning its growth-mindset journey. Two years after launching its own growth-mindset initiative, HP Inc. saw a 22% jump in employee engagement.

The reason for these gains is simple: Teams that can cultivate a growth mindset culture don’t think the way other teams in other organizations do. Rather than use a so-called fixed mindset, and see challenges as sources of threat, these growth mindset cultures see challenges as opportunities. They leap at the chance to tackle a new problem. Sure, they may fail. But remember: the point of growth mindset isn’t to be the best — rather, to get better. So long as teams can learn from those failures, and do better next time, they can consider a failed venture a success.

Finding a balance with growth mindset

NLI’s research shows that many companies misunderstand, and misuse, the idea of growth mindset. Often, leaders will fit the meaning to match their specific goals. In some companies, for example, managers will criticize their employees for not exhibiting a growth mindset when the employees say their workloads are full.

Growth mindset does not mean having infinite time or mental resources. The brain most certainly has a finite capacity.

Where growth mindset does the most good is in daily conversations and check-ins. Managers who listen carefully when talking to their direct reports may notice self-defeating or fixed-mindset language. These include phrases like “I’m bad at…” or “I can’t…” A growth-mindset approach would turn those sentiments into phrases such as, “I currently struggle with…” and “I can’t…yet.”

These small tweaks lead to profound changes, especially when entire organizations put them to use. (It’s for this reason many of NLI’s most popular learning solutions put growth mindset right at the center of the action. Its importance can’t be overstated.)

As you start to adopt these phrases in your own work, you may still struggle day to day. But eventually you may find that the tasks that once produced extreme stress and anxiety actually have become your biggest assets. Even if you aren’t the best, you’ll still have gotten better. And that’s all that really counts.

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