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Why Mindset Matters at Work

A person watering a brain with leaves growing out of it

Try this thought experiment with me: 

I want you to picture two people. The first is a leader or mentor you admire. This might be someone from your current workplace, or someone from a previous job. Maybe it was someone who helped you early on in your career. Someone who inspired you to do good work. Someone who made a difference in your job trajectory or even your life. Someone you believe in and respect. What words would you use to describe that individual’s mindset?

Now picture someone on the opposite end of the spectrum. Think of a leader or a colleague you’ve encountered who did not encourage you to do your best work. Someone who dragged down the company culture or the people around them. Someone you maybe even avoided in the breakroom. The Dwight to your Jim (if you’re into “The Office”). How would you describe this person’s mindset?


Mindset comes up a lot in workplace and leadership coaching. In many ways, it is at the foundation of everything we do at Anna Mason Consulting: goals, behavior, communication, relationships, performance, achievement. When we establish a coaching relationship, the coach begins by asking reflective questions that help both client and coach better understand the leader’s mindset. 

Social and workplace psychologists have a lot to say about mindset. So what is it? And can anyone actually change their mindset at work? 

Recent research by Ryan Gottfredson and Chris Reina, professors in business and management, found that “mindset development” must be a core component of professional development. They even go a step further and say that without addressing mindset, most leadership development programs or trainings will not be effective. They define mindset as “what leaders do and why,” which is key to “how leaders think, learn, and behave.” Their studies dig deep into the ways different leaders might approach the same situation with very divergent approaches. 

In her groundbreaking book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck illustrates the importance of developing a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. At its most basic, a fixed mindset is the belief that personality, talent, and character traits are intrinsic and unchangeable. Growth mindset is the idea that talent and skill can be developed. 

Dr. Dweck’s research proves that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and solve problems. In this fascinating TED talk, she presents two ways to think about a problem: Are you not smart enough to solve it? Or have you just not solved it yet? When we push out of our comfort zones, we build stronger neural pathways that eventually lead to breakthroughs in the way we think and behave. Voila! Growth!

In my coaching sessions with clients, I use research-backed tools like the Predictive Index to help organizations learn what makes their team tick. Understanding your PI profile is an important first step in understanding your needs, behaviors, and strengths within a team. I train PI clients to assess the data and find ways to apply it to help with hiring, goal setting, and performance managing. My EQ-I 2.0 tool is also based on a growth mindset: With practice and persistence, we can improve relationships, build teams, resolve conflict in new ways, solve problems, and super-charge our resilience. 

These skills are especially critical for supervisors, managers, and executives. As research continues to prove that our personalities and abilities at work are not fixed and are actually quite malleable, there is a renewed focus on leaders honing those skills. 

Recently, I worked with a client who wanted to project more confidence at work and eventually move into a higher position on the executive team. But at the beginning of our time together, he described himself as an introvert who simply did not possess the skills to display confidence, to speak up in meetings, to make decisions, or to be seen as the subject-matter expert that he is. Classic example of a fixed mindset: I am who I am, and I can’t change it. But over the course of our sessions together, he began to understand himself better, which led to changes in behavior that were, at first, small. He had to step slightly outside of his comfort zone, but in a way that felt safe and supported. He began sharing his ideas with peers, then raised recommendations in meetings. He was more assertive and didn’t shy away from difficult conversations. Eventually, he was able to present solutions to the chief executive and build rapport with the executive team that propelled him into an elevated role. 


Think back to the two individuals I asked you to imagine at the beginning of this post. The leader or mentor that you admire — the one who inspired or challenged you in positive ways — do you think that individual operated from a growth or fixed mindset? On the contrary, the person who stalled progress or stymied the company culture… let me guess: Fixed mindset?

When we start with the knowledge that we can change — and that change is a good and necessary thing — we lay the foundation for a growth mindset. Nurturing your leaders is essential to overcoming challenges and getting the results you want. Companies that invest in strategic leadership development programs that focus on mindset will see a positive return on their investment. Join me on LinkedIn and Facebook this month to get expert tips on cultivating a growth mindset. 

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