Looking back at my childhood I was often resentful of my mother’s form of praise. I would bring her my graded tests and if I handed her something with a 95% score, she would give me a kiss and say ‘That’s my boy, next time try harder and you’ll get 100%!’.
I often thought to myself ‘you’re not satisfied?’. Little did I know I was developing an attitude about the world known as “growth mindset”.
This is a term coined by Stanford professor Carol Dweck. Carol discovered that how we praise our children is just as important as how often. The right sort of praise can help your child foster a growth mindset and boost his or her motivation, resilience and learning. The wrong kind can create self-defeating behavior.
The Fixed Mindset
When you praise intelligence you appeal to a fixed mindset – the belief that intellectual ability is innate. Those with a fixed mindset tend to agree with statements such as “You have a certain amount of intelligence and cannot do much to change it.” They see mistakes as failure and as signs that they aren’t talented enough for the task. More concerning, they tend to avoid challenging tasks. The desire to learn becomes secondary.
The Growth Mindset
When you praise for effort, you appeal to a growth mindset – the belief that you can develop ability through controllable effort. Those with a growth mindset believe that they can get better at almost anything, as long as they spend the necessary time and energy. Instead of seeking to avoid mistakes, they see mistakes as an essential precursor of knowledge.
Growth Mindset Praise In Work Culture
Startup organizations tend to attract growth mindset individuals who are risk averse, willing to wear many hats and put in the effort to win. In my startup teams I’ve seen this dynamic emerge serendipitously – sort of a mutual understanding between like minded individuals.
The opposite seems to be true of larger organizations that seem to breed complacency. The largest organization I’ve worked in was around 1000 people. The company had a top-down management approach that did little to foster a growth mindset culture. It’s not a place I was able to stay at for long.
Why Is Growth Mindset So Important?
First, if fixed mindset dominates your work culture, your employees will believe company success is due to factors outside of their control. Similarly, they will think of failure in the same way. They will perceive mistakes as failures rather than learning experiences. This will affect their willingness to take on challenges that may otherwise move the organization forward.
Second, perhaps as a reaction to the first, they will become more concerned with looking smart than with value creation.
Third, they will be less willing to confront the reasons behind any deficiencies, and less willing to make an effort. Such team members will have a difficult time admitting errors. There is too much at stake for failure.
How To Develop Growth Mindset In Your Team
1. Praise Effort
Cite specific behaviors such as the amount of time spent or the approach your team member is taking to tackle a problem. This will enable them to connect their actions with results.
2. Praise Failure
If your team member works hard on a challenging project that ultimately doesn’t do well, treat it as a learning experience. Thank them for being so dedicated and let them know it’s ok to fail. If the project still has hope, offer to work together to figure out how to make it work.
3. Reinforce New Experiences
If your team member is attempting a new challenge reinforce the positives of new learning experiences. For example, “It’s impressive you are taking the time to learn this new programming language – I know you haven’t done this before.”
4. Encourage Curiosity
Embrace the adage “There is no such thing as a stupid question”. Let your team members know you value their quest for knowledge and exploration of new ideas.
Whether you’re 10 years old or 50, positive reinforcement has a major impact on your mental health. As adults we spend most of our waking life at work. As such, it’s important that we all receive praise from our leaders and colleagues. It’s equally important that we foster work culture that embraces growth mindset praise. We should position reinforcement in a way that empowers our team members to grow.