Beyond Buzzwords: The Real Impact of a Growth Mindset

Professional growth and development, it’s littered with key phrases and buzzwords, but there’s one particular phrase that’s become something of a mantra: “Growth Mindsets.” It’s like the North Star guiding us through the ever-changing landscape of career progression and personal development. Imagine this: you’re scanning through your LinkedIn feed, or perhaps you’re seated at your coffee shop, sipping your espresso while skimming through the latest headlines. And there it is, nestled amongst the articles and columns – “Growth Mindsets.” It’s everywhere, impossible to ignore, and for good reason. But what lies beneath this powerful concept? Where did it first take root, and why does it resonate so deeply in the realm of leadership and personal growth? Let’s embark on a journey to uncover the true essence of growth mindsets, to decode their profound significance and explore how they shape the very fabric of our professional and personal lives. Coined by renowned psychologist Carol Dweck, the concept of growth mindsets emerged from decades of research on achievement and success. Dweck’s seminal work, articulated in her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” talks of two distinct mindsets: fixed and growth. A growth mindset, as opposed to its fixed counterpart, is characterised by the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and effort. But how can we discern whether we possess a growth mindset? Let me share with you a personal account. As a young leader navigating the challenges of a competitive environment, I often found myself facing setbacks and uncertainties. It was during one particularly difficult interaction relating to a change project, that I realised my mindset could make all the difference. Instead of viewing the obstacles being hurled at me as roadblocks, I could embrace them as opportunities for growth, learning and further improvement. This shift in perspective empowered me to persist in the face of adversity, no longer dragged down by “negative” walls to climb, comfortable knowing that failure was not a dead-end but a detour on the path to success. This didn’t happen as quickly as this account may imply, but the seeds for this mindset change were well and truly planted during this moment. On the other hand, let me introduce you to Sarah (not her real name), a colleague who embodies the traits of a fixed mindset. Whenever faced with a challenge or critique, Sarah would become defensive and resistant to feedback. She would clearly put up a defensive barrier and would become visible disengaged. The change in demeanour was stark and couldn’t be missed. She saw setbacks as a reflection of her ability and her inherent limitations rather than opportunities for improvement. She was convinced that unless everything was smooth sailing, she was being perceived as failing. This fixed mindset hindered her professional growth and dampened team morale, as she struggled to adapt to changing circumstances and embrace new ideas. She wasn’t able to be agile, she saw a fixed path of zero deviation and was not willing to listen to anything that could change that. But that’s just one example from my experience, if you find yourself falling into the “fixed mindset” category, fear not, as a growth mindset is within reach. Engaging in deliberate practice, seeking out new experiences, and reframing setbacks as learning opportunities are pathways towards fostering a growth mindset. Surrounding ourselves with supportive communities and mentors who embody this mindset can also help with a mindset transformation. But why bother? Why does cultivating a growth mindset really matter? The statistics speak volumes. Research conducted by Stanford University revealed that students who embraced a growth mindset achieved higher grades and demonstrated greater resilience compared to their fixed mindset counterparts. In business, a study by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that organisations fostering a growth mindset among their employees exhibited higher levels of innovation and productivity. Further research reveals that generational disparities significantly shape workplace dynamics and organisational ethos. According to a study by the Pew Research Centre, Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) have overtaken Generation X to claim the mantle of the largest demographic in the UK labour force. This demographic shift herald’s unique attitudes and expectations that influence workplace norms. For instance, Millennials are often lauded for prioritising work-life balance and seeking fulfilling career paths. Deloitte’s research highlights that 76% of Millennials factor a company’s social and environmental commitments into their job choices. This stands in contrast to older generations, such as Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), who may place greater emphasis on job security and traditional career trajectories. Moreover, the digital revolution has profoundly impacted generational behaviours. Millennials and Generation Z (those born after 1996) are considered digital natives, having come of age during a period of rapid technological advancement. Adobe’s findings indicate that 71% of Millennials believe that technology enhances collaboration in the workplace. This reliance on technology for communication sets them apart from older colleagues who may have different preferences for interpersonal interaction. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that generational differences are not absolute, it’s a generalisation of course, and individual nuances abound within each cohort. Nevertheless, discerning these trends can inform HR strategies, leadership development initiatives and cross-generational teamwork efforts, thereby fostering a more inclusive and productive organisational culture. Understanding generational differences and fostering a culture of inclusivity and collaboration aligns closely with the principles of a growth mindset. By embracing diversity and promoting lifelong learning, organisations can unlock the full potential of their workforce and drive sustainable growth and success. The value of growth mindsets extends far beyond specific industries or job roles. It lingers in the air like the smell of fresh washing, touching every aspect of our professional landscape, from leadership to entrepreneurship. Leaders with a growth mindset inspire and empower their teams to pursue excellence, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and innovation. Similarly, entrepreneurs who embrace a growth mindset navigate the challenges of the business world with resilience and adaptability, transforming setbacks into opportunities for growth. By embracing the principles of

The Pursuit of Promotion: Myths, Realities and Personal Reflections

In the employment world, the allure of climbing the ladder is undeniable. The promise of higher status, increased salary and greater recognition often drives us to relentlessly pursue promotions. Yet, amidst this pursuit, we often overlook the profound impact it can have on our well-being, our relationships and even somewhat ironically, the quality of our work. For many, the pursuit of promotion is just like chasing a mirage in the desert. We believe that achieving the next fancy title or level will bring us lasting satisfaction and fulfilment. We believe that once we have it, we will have “made it”. However, research indicates otherwise. According to a study by Gallup, only 33% of employees in the UK feel engaged at work, suggesting that the pursuit of promotions does not necessarily lead to increased happiness or fulfilment. What fuels this fixation for many of us? Is it the glamourised portrayals in movies? Perhaps the achievements we witness in friends and family? Or could it be an intrinsic trait ingrained in our species? The truth is, the obsession with chasing promotion can be influenced by all of these factors and more, including societal norms, personal experiences and innate human tendencies. Movies, television shows and other forms of media often depict success as synonymous with climbing the ladder. Characters who achieve high status and wealth through promotions are frequently portrayed as role models, reinforcing the idea that upward mobility is the ultimate measure of success. Fictional I know, but in the sitcom “The Office,” created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, characters like Tim Canterbury (played by Martin Freeman) and Gareth Keenan (portrayed by Mackenzie Crook) are in a constant competition for promotion and better positions within the fictional Wernham Hogg Paper Company. Their ambitions and interactions with each other and colleagues highlight the common theme of career advancement as a measure of success in the workplace. Even Gervais’ character, David Brent, the boss, is deeply entrenched in this obsession with stature, titles and climbing the ladder. Every action and interaction he takes, seems geared toward looking good and being the best. In his own mind, he believes he’s achieving exactly that, but to those observing from the outside, he falls well short of his own self-perception. Reflecting on this, it’s worth asking ourselves if we’ve ever exhibited “Brent-like” behaviours. Have we ever been so consumed by the pursuit of promotions and status that we lose sight of how we’re perceived by others? It’s a question that prompts introspection and reminds us of the importance of staying grounded and authentic in our professional pursuits. Cultural values and societal expectations undeniably shape our perceptions of career advancement. In cultures that prioritise individual achievement and status, pursuing promotions is often seen as crucial for personal fulfilment and social validation. Many organisations are structured to facilitate a progressive ascent into more senior positions over time. However, there are individuals who defy this conventional trajectory, they have no interest in chasing the proverbial carrot – they break the traditional mould and defy the system! So, how do we motivate these individuals who aren’t driven by the allure of promotion? For me, the answer lies in treating them with respect, making them feel valued, and encouraging their contributions wherever possible. By recognising their unique skills and strengths, and providing opportunities for growth and development that align with their interests and values, we can foster a sense of belonging and purpose within the organisation. Ultimately, by creating an inclusive and supportive environment, we can inspire all employees to excel and contribute to the collective success of the team. We naturally learn by observing the behaviour of those around us, particularly friends, family members and colleagues. If we see others being rewarded for their career advancement, we may internalise the belief that promotion is necessary for happiness and success. Additionally, witnessing the struggles and sacrifices that others make in their pursuit of promotion can create a sense of peer pressure or societal expectations to follow a similar path. From an evolutionary perspective, humans are wired to seek out opportunities for status and social dominance. In ancestral environments, individuals who held higher social status often had greater access to resources, mating opportunities and protection from threats. This drive for status and recognition may be hardwired into our brains, leading us to pursue promotions as a means of elevating our social standing and securing our place within the group. You could perhaps argue that this is still the same now, just those resources look different, but are still the same in context. Ultimately, our desire for promotion may also stem from individual aspirations and goals. For some, the pursuit of advancement may be driven by a genuine passion for their work, a desire for greater influence or impact, or a sense of personal achievement. Additionally, promotion often comes with tangible rewards such as higher salaries, better benefits and increased job security, which can provide a powerful incentive for individuals seeking to improve their financial and professional well-being. Constantly striving for promotion can take a toll on our mental and physical health too. The pressure to perform, the fear of failure, and the relentless pursuit of success can lead to stress, burnout and even serious health issues. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that individuals who prioritise promotion over other aspects of their lives experience higher levels of stress and lower job satisfaction. Initially, I found this statistic surprising, however as I digested it over (another) hot, velvety, cinnamon latte, I found myself at the other end of the spectrum, thinking that actually I am not surprised at all! I recall many times over the years feeling completely fried as a result of leading the charge for that next step. As I mentioned before, the obsession with climbing the ladder can negatively impact the quality of our work. According to a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 37% of employees reported

Empowerment Unleashed: Breaking Free from Micromanagement

In the field of leadership, there’s one principle that stands out as the backbone of every successful leader; respect for people. With over 25 years of experience navigating the intricacies of leadership, I’ve come to understand that empowerment is the cornerstone of effective leadership and organisational success. However, the journey to empowerment is not without its hurdles, with micromanagement serving as a formidable obstacle. Micromanagement, often regarded as the scourge of productivity and morale, casts a pervasive shadow over workplaces, leaving employees feeling stifled, demotivated and disengaged. Shockingly, a survey conducted by Gallup revealed that a staggering 79% of employees who quit their jobs cite a lack of appreciation as the primary reason for their departure. Micromanagement exacerbates this issue, creating an environment where employees feel undervalued and underutilised. Despite its detrimental effects, many individuals endure micromanagement in silence, fearing the repercussions of being labelled as difficult, obstructive or a troublemaker. In reality, peer-to-peer conversations often reveal that others share similar sentiments. However, the fear of confronting the issue with their superiors often leads employees to endure the situation silently or even resign from their positions. It’s crucial to recognise that micromanagement not only damages individual morale but also erodes trust within teams and undermines organisational effectiveness. By fostering an environment where open communication and mutual respect are encouraged, leaders can address the root causes of micromanagement and cultivate a culture of empowerment and collaboration. The detrimental effects of micromanagement extend far beyond individual dissatisfaction. Teams suffer from a significant decline in creativity, collaboration and innovation as individuals become hesitant to take risks or freely express their ideas. Personally, even when in senior roles, I’ve experienced moments in my career where my confidence was so profoundly impacted by micromanagement that I felt anxious about attending meetings where my superiors would be present. Moreover, micromanagers themselves endure burnout and frustration, overwhelmed by the relentless need to control every aspect of their team’s work. This not only impairs their own well-being but also hampers their ability to effectively lead and inspire their teams. Micromanagement doesn’t always have a clear-cut explanation, it’s a complex issue with various underlying causes. From my years of experience in leadership, I’ve observed that it often boils down to personal traits, past experiences and the culture within an organisation. Fear of failure is a common driver. I’ve seen managers who feel the weight of responsibility for every task and project, fearing that any misstep reflects poorly on them. This fear can lead them to hover over their team, scrutinising every detail and decision. Perfectionism is a trait that hits close to home for me. Over the years, I’ve found myself grappling with exceptionally high standards, often struggling to trust others to meet them. This internal drive for perfection can sometimes lead me to feel compelled to oversee every aspect of a project, ensuring it aligns perfectly with my vision. Recognising this tendency within myself has been a journey. It’s something I’ve had to work hard on to prevent inadvertently micromanaging my teams. However, this awareness has been incredibly valuable. It’s allowed me to take a step back, reassess my approach, and trust in the capabilities of my team members. By acknowledging my perfectionist tendencies and actively working to curb them, I’ve been able to foster a more collaborative and empowering environment for my teams. Rather than micromanaging every detail, I’ve learned to delegate effectively, empower my team members and focus on the bigger picture. This journey hasn’t been easy, but it’s been incredibly rewarding. Embracing imperfection as opportunities and trusting in the skills and expertise of my team has not only alleviated the burden of micromanagement but has also led to greater innovation, creativity and success within my teams. Lack of trust can also play a significant role. In my career, I’ve witnessed managers who struggle to trust their team members’ abilities or intentions. This lack of trust may stem from past negative experiences or insecurities about their own leadership capabilities. Personal insecurities can indeed fuel micromanagement tendencies, creating a toxic dynamic within a team. I’ve personally experienced this first hand, finding myself perceived as a threat by my manager rather than valued as an asset. At the time, I internalised this perception, second-guessing every decision and scrutinising every word I typed in a paper in an effort to align with my manager’s vision. In hindsight, I’ve come to realise that this dynamic was driven not by my own insecurities, but by my manager’s. Their fear of being overshadowed or outshined led them to micromanage as a way to assert control and maintain their sense of authority. It’s a realisation that didn’t come easily at the time, as I grappled with self-doubt and uncertainty about my own capabilities. Understanding this dynamic has been a transformative journey. It’s allowed me to release myself from the burden of self-blame and recognise that my performance was never the issue, it was my manager’s insecurities that drove their behaviour. Armed with this insight, I’ve been able to navigate similar situations with greater clarity and confidence, refusing to let others’ insecurities dictate my worth or potential. Lastly, organisational culture can play a significant role in perpetuating micromanagement. In environments where control and hierarchy reign supreme, and autonomy and collaboration take a back seat, managers may feel compelled to micromanage to meet expectations or adhere to established norms. This tendency is often particularly prevalent in matrix organisations or those with a long-standing history that have been slow to embrace transformation and modernisation. In such cultures, the emphasis on control can stifle innovation, creativity and individual empowerment. Managers may feel pressure to exert control over their teams’ every move, fearing the consequences of deviating from established protocols or challenging the status quo. Breaking free from this ingrained culture of micromanagement requires a concerted effort to shift organisational values and priorities. It involves fostering a culture that values autonomy, collaboration and trust, and empowers individuals at all levels to take ownership of their work and

Good Leadership: The Negative Brainstorming Approach

Leadership, a term often discussed in the context of its shortcomings rather than its merits, plays a pivotal role in various facets of life—be it in business, politics, or sports. But what exactly is leadership, and how does it manifest itself? Boiling it down, what does good leadership truly look like? To explore this, let’s delve into a valuable tool from Continuous Improvement known as ‘Negative Brainstorming’ or ‘Reverse Brainstorming.’ This technique proves useful when grappling with problems or challenges. By focusing on the negative aspects, it sheds light on the hurdles, aiding a better understanding of what constitutes good leadership. It is, in essence, an exercise in recognizing what poor leadership entails. From my own experiences, poor leadership is unmistakable through certain behaviours. A lack of clear direction, coupled with ineffective communication and excessive control, characterises it. Poor leaders fail to set examples, dismiss innovative ideas and avoid taking responsibility for mistakes. Adaptability issues, favouritism and a lack of empathy further compound the problem, leading to poor decision-making. The most detrimental aspect of poor leadership, however, is the failure to acknowledge and reward the efforts of the team. This behaviour creates a negative work environment, fostering high turnover and low morale, ultimately impacting the overall effectiveness of the organisation. Based on these negatives, what does a good leadership look like then? Good leadership is a nuanced quality often overlooked in discussions. It involves the ability to listen, adapt and nurture the growth of the team. Effective leaders inspire and guide a group of individuals towards shared goals. They make crucial decisions, communicate effectively and empower their team, creating a positive work environment. Having a leadership philosophy proves instrumental in guiding one’s approach to leadership. It provides a clear direction, helps make decisions in line with values and vision and fosters stability and trust within the team. A leadership philosophy is not a rigid framework, it allows for adaptability while inspiring and motivating a team. Importantly, it encourages personal reflection, aiding in continuous improvement. One notable leadership philosophy that aligns closely with efficiency, innovation and team empowerment is ‘Lean Leadership.’ Rooted in Lean Manufacturing principles, it champions collaboration, transparency and adaptability. Lean leadership seeks to eliminate waste, streamline processes and instil a culture of continuous improvement. Lean leadership delivers not only organisational benefits but also significantly impacts individuals within the workforce. Studies show substantial increases in productivity, with organisations adopting Lean practices experiencing a 15-30% boost. Job satisfaction also sees a notable improvement, with teams led by engaged leaders, often associated with Lean principles, reporting 21% higher productivity levels. Additionally, Lean initiatives contribute to a substantial 20-50% reduction in costs for organisations, emphasising the financial and operational advantages. These statistics underscore the tangible and positive effects that Lean leadership brings to both the organisational and individual levels, making it a valuable approach for enhancing efficiency, satisfaction and cost-effectiveness. So, how do you do this? Transitioning to Lean leadership is not an overnight task. It so often encounters resistance, requires effective communication and demands adept change management. Training and coaching play a crucial role in bridging conceptual gaps, preventing the pitfall of fixating on metrics without understanding the underlying principles. From personal experience in a Lean leadership transition, the journey involved challenges but also profound transformations. Embracing the Lean mindset and adjusting my leadership style marked a turning point, bringing tangible changes within my team and across the organisation. It underscores the importance of individual learning and adaptability in driving positive transformations. For me, thinking back many years ago to the start, Lean leadership refined my approach, prioritising collaboration over hierarchy and outcomes over processes. It resulted in improved job satisfaction, morale and increased opportunities for skill development within my team. Stakeholders and customers alike noticed the positive changes, highlighting the transparency and efficiency in operations. This isn’t an isolated case, it’s a common outcome for those adopting a Lean leadership philosophy. In conclusion, Lean leadership is not just a set of guidelines, it’s a transformative mindset that enhances individual well-being and significantly contributes to organisational success. The journey may be challenging, but the rewards in terms of individual effectiveness, productivity, job satisfaction and cost efficiency make it a worthwhile pursuit. Adopting a Lean leadership philosophy is more than a professional shift, it’s a commitment to continuous improvement, collaboration and creating a positive work culture. If you’d like to learn more, or take steps into becoming a Lean leader, visit To hear more of my ramblings, follow me on LinkedIn – Matt Sims, or check out my Blogs at Blog – Ever-So-Lean (