3 steps to cultivating growth mindset leadership

Helen Tupper, CEO of professional training network, Amazing If, joined B2B Marketing’s Leadership forum in September 2019 to discuss the growth mindset. Here, Kavita Singh shares Helen’s advice on effective coaching methods, including the power of psychological safety and the necessity for frequent feedback. 

Careers used to be linear. People went to work, they had a secure salary and developed a set routine towards advancement. However, with changing roles and varying work patterns, careers are becoming what Helen Tupper describes as “squiggly”. 

“My business partner, Sarah Ellis and I were reflecting on our careers since university. We thought we’d have this really predictable, linear career and would be really motivated to get to the top of the ladder. The reality was that career path was less like a staircase, and much more squiggly.”

Helen and Sarah are not alone. That’s because the skills needed for modern marketing are more diverse than ever, and the route to acquiring them is similarly broad. This shouldn’t be seen as a source of frustration, but of opportunity. Yet, these opportunities are only available to us if we approach them with the right mindset.  

The difference between growth and fixed mindset

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck developed the idea of two mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. A person who encompasses a fixed mindset is someone who needs to be seen as flawless straight away. While this might seem ideal, the trait of a perfectionist in fact, but a person doesn’t either ‘have it’ or not. This fixed mindset is mainly driven by imposter syndrome and a fear of being found out, which can have lasting impacts on a person’s career growth. 

Helen says: “They’re not going to put themselves in situations where they’re going to fail because  they don’t want to fail, that means they won’t complete challenging tasks or develop potential. Equally, they’re not going to ask for feedback because they don’t want to put in their boss’s mind that they could do something better.” 

Because of this, a fixed  mindset can be highly detrimental to career growth. Indeed, Helen believes the best managers are linked to a growth mindset. 

She explains: “Somebody who has a growth mindset at work is somebody who takes on situations that can be quite challenging. They’re willing to step outside of their comfort zone because they realise that even though there is some risk in doing so, they know it’s going to be a way for them to grow and develop. Someone with a growth mindset is more likely to welcome feedback as well.” 

But how does someone manifest a growth mindset? Helen breaks it down in three steps.

1. Build a psychologically safe team

Harvard business professor Amy Edmonson cited psychological safety as a key attribute in high-performing teams. When Amy was a grad student, she studied medical teams to see which performed the best. Edmonson was surprised to learn that the ones who made more mistakes were the ones who outperformed the teams that were a bit more careful. 

Helen explains: “What she proved in her research is that psychological safety is the number one differentiatator between average and high-performing teams. Psychological safety is essentially that the idea that your team feels they can be themselves at work, that they can make mistakes and they don’t feel threatened. 

Edmonson identified seven traits of psychological safety:

7  traits of a psychologically safe team:

  1. Being true to their unique self
  2. Asking for help frequently 
  3. Having tough conversations
  4. Acceptance of risk
  5. Having constant support for each other
  6. Utilising one another’s individual strengths

While achieving these all at once might seem impossible, Helen cites three tactics that can significantly contribute towards a psychologically safe team.

3 remedies for creating a psychologically safe team:

  1. Ask your team how they’re feeling: Getting a temperature check can give a clear indication of where your team stands. This can be through an assessment or one-on-one. 
  2. Being vulnerable: Being vulnerable and authentic as a manager will make your team feel comfortable, especially if you own up to your mistakes. If you’re a role model, you can show it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you admit to them upfront.
  3. Mistake meetings: Having a sit-down meeting will give a more formal setting to discuss what went wrong and how mistakes can be prevented. These are not designed to make sure things always go right. It’s to guarantee that no mistakes are hidden.

2. The 3 R’s in Receiving Feedback 

People on the receiving end of negative feedback are likely to feel uncomfortable about it, but similarly, the managers who give that feedback are also likely to feel uncomfortable . 

“Our brains actually overprocess negative feedback. When we’re given positive feedback, it takes six seconds before someone can identify with it. Whereas, if it’s negative , our brain instantly internalises that and starts processing it. That makes feedback an emotionally latent process,” Helen explains. 

Because of that, Helen believes people tend to avoid both giving and receiving regular feedback. There are three ways to make feedback both effective, and the ‘new normal’.

3 steps to making feedback more efficient:

  • Regular: Make feedback daily and weekly. The most simple feedback tool is to use “What worked well, what would be even better”. It’s such a simple way to provide encouraging positive feedback while also pointing out any errors and opportunities. 
  • Real time: Give people feedback as close to the moment as possible. The longer you leave it, the less relevant it becomes.
  • Relevant: Besides the six second rule, talking about something that your employee really cares about will leave a lasting impression. For example, if you know your employee was excited to present at a meeting and did well, give that feedback tailored to them specifically. 

3. Incorporate GROWS for growth

The difference between a good manager and a great one is their ability to coach their teammates to success. Helen’s advice to leaders is to develop their ability to listen and prepare good questions, both of which are essential for coaching. Another pointer is that while it may seem more time-efficient to solve someone’s issues straight on, it’s also important that you allow them to think of the best solutions for themselves. 

Helen recommends the goal-setting model GROWS, which was first developed in 1980 by business coaches Graham Alexander, Alan Fine, and Sir John Whitmore. 

GROWS: The key to problem solving 

  • Goals: What is the root of the problem you’re trying to solve? 
  • Reality: What is actually going on, aside from emotion and misinterpretation? 
  • Options: What options do you have to resolve this challenge?
  • Way forward/ Will: How can you facilitate their progress as a committed leader? 
  • Support: During this last stage (which must not preceed the others) you will take action to support your team member.

From career success to succession planning: The B2B Marketing Leaders Report 2019

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