Your intelligence (or creativity or athletic ability etc.) is something very basic about you that you cannot change very much.


You can always substantially change how intelligent (or creative or athletic…) you are.

Your response may fall somewhere in the middle. Realize it or not, your belief about whether you can change or not permeates every aspect of your life.

Is yours a fixed or a growth mindset?

If you believe that you cannot change yourself very much your whole life might be set up to unwittingly prove your intelligence, personality or character over and over again. Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected?[1] The underlying beliefs are that to be worthy, I need to be liked/smart and/or successful. When my self worth is hinged totally on how others see me, I may play safe, always push to be top dog, and/or avoid vulnerability.

If I am a leader with a fixed mindset, my worldview might be win/lose. I need to prove my superiority over others, even if they are on my team. Think Lee Iacocca at the extreme. When Jim Collins studied Good to Great companies, he found lots of fixed mindset leaders in the “bad companies” and none in the good to great ones.

Fortunately, most organizations have some leaders and staff that believe they can change their basic qualities and challenge beliefs that don’t serve them any longer. People with a growth mindset believe they can grow and change through effort, application and experience. Why waste time proving over and over how great I am when I could be getting better? Why hide my deficiencies instead of just overcoming them? Why look for friends, partners, leadership peers who will shore up my self-esteem instead of ones who will challenge me to grow? And why cling to the status quo, instead of experiences that will stretch me? The passion for stretching oneself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well is the hallmark of the growth mindset.

Most of you will start looking around you to judge whether your peers have more of a fixed or a growth mindset. If you are reading this post, you’re likely of a growth mindset (my assumption). If you see growth minded people around you, you’ll feel affirmed and hopeful. If you see mostly fixed mindset people, you may feel discouraged and wonder if change is even possible at your company.

Take heart. Alfred Binet, inventor of the IQ Test, said this: It is not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest. He believed people could change and I do too. Challenging your fundamental belief(s) about who you are as a person/leader and what you can become requires opening the door to a growth mindset…and to doing the work necessary to break free from limiting beliefs.

Yes, and let’s be real. It helps to have “the right people on the bus” too. Let those who are too attached to maintaining their fixed mindset find a seat on someone else’s bus (2 min audio on this topic by Jim Collins here.)

[1] Questions and overall theory all come from Carol Dweck’s studies in Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success.

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