Steering the Ship with a Growth Mindset

The COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe with uncertainty, tragedy and panic. How can you best equip yourself and your business to embrace new challenges in uncharted waters? Developing the right mindset could be a good place to start, and a growth mindset may just be the answer.

Business survival & the new normal

Uncertainty, tragedy, panic, disbelief, loneliness, powerlessness, anger, fear – these are just a few words that have come to describe the current global milieu.

The economic impact of COVID-19 has been far-reaching. All over the world, lockdown has resulted in economic hardships in the wake of forced regulations set in place to mitigate health risks and lower mortality rates. While debates rage over how governments and the international community should or could be dealing better with this crisis, the reality remains: a new landscape of economic uncertainty has emerged in which businesses need to navigate an unknown terrain in order to survive and reposition themselves.

Although life as we know it may never be the same again, it is not all too clear where the chips may fall. In a time where action is constrained and the environment makes decision-making all the more difficult, it is important to assess how we look at a problem to discover what opportunities we might be missing.

Adding his spin on Winston Churchill’s famous saying “Never waste a good crisis”, Andrew Low, owner of discussingbusiness.com, writes:

In challenging times one must question the accepted reality because things are going wrong, rapid answers are needed and the solution may well be found outside the usual compass.

Amidst all of the negative developments around the novel coronavirus, innovation and adaptation have emerged as key resources. New avenues of conducting commerce, communication, business, tuition and politics have been forged, largely thanks to digital technologies. However, innovative approaches to problem-solving do not arise due to the existence of technologies. Rather, technology facilitates innovation when coupled with the right mindset that approaches the “new” with unfettered energy and fluid ingenuity.

In order to best navigate these seas of uncertainty, you need to see opportunities in challenges and potential in change. This is what Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck calls a growth mindset, and it may just be the perspective that can help you steer your business through uncharted waters.

What is a growth mindset?

According to Dweck, much of what we think we understand of our personality comes from our “mindset”. Our mindset propels us forward or prevents us from fulfilling our potential. In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck outlines two primary mindsets with which one can navigate life: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

A fixed mindset views intelligence as static. People who adhere to a fixed mindset believe their qualities are fixed traits and therefore cannot change. This results in a deterministic view of the world where intelligence and success are preordained. In other words, there is little you can do to change your lot in life.

A growth mindset, on the other hand, is one that acknowledges that intelligence can be developed. This mindset leads to a desire to take on challenges and learn from them. A growth mindset offers a lens to view effort as a path to reward. Criticism and failure are opportunities to learn, and the ingenuity of others can teach you things about yourself. As a result, a growth mindset can help to drive you towards higher achievement and a greater sense of free will.

Steering the ship

According to Ryan Gottfredson and Chris Reina: “Mindsets are leaders’ mental lenses that dictate what information they take in and use to make sense of, and navigate, the situations they encounter.” In other words, mindsets drive actions and also explain why these actions are taken. 

Gottfredson and Reina contend that leaders with a growth mindset are more mentally primed to:

  • approach and take on challenges
  • take advantage of feedback
  • adopt the most effective problem-solving strategies
  • provide developmental feedback to subordinates
  • be effortful and persistent in seeking to accomplish goals

A leader that has cultivated a growth mindset is always on the lookout for opportunities, for themselves and their team, especially during times of crisis. Growth does not, however, merely mean business growth in terms of profit. Rather, with the knowledge that people are fluid, malleable and adaptable, the application of a growth mindset can engineer a culture that values exploration, personal growth and transformation.

The above may sound easier said than done, especially in the current difficult circumstances. One must also acknowledge that the context differs for every person. However, the key is to start cultivating this perspective sooner rather than later in order to apply it in your own context.

Here is a list of nine quick things you can start applying today in order to turn that fixed mindset into a fluid and growth-oriented one:

  1. Acknowledge and embrace imperfection
  2. View challenges as opportunities to innovate
  3. Always keep learning
  4. Be open to change
  5. Value the process over the end result
  6. Cultivate a sense of purpose
  7. Emphasise growth over speed
  8. Reward actions, not traits
  9. Own your attitude

The environment remains unknown

In his Forbes article Leadership in the Time of COVID-19, Mark Nevins notes:

There’s no “playbook” for leadership when the stakes are high, and there’s certainly no playbook for what to do in the face of a 21st Century pandemic.  We are all facing threats on multiple fronts at once: to self, family, employees, customers, suppliers and business partners, governmental and financial systems, and potentially our social fabric.

Whether you are a C-level executive or a director of a micro start-up, you and your workforce need to be flexible, adaptable, and willing to make difficult choices. “Your business may have to hibernate, pivot to remain relevant or struggle to cope with unprecedented demand overnight,” writes John Rives from the Growth Mindset Institute. How you respond to these challenges, according to Rives, can be heavily influenced by your mindset and, as research has shown, “people with a growth mindset have a greater ability to thrive in even the most difficult situations”.

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