Developing leadership capability in providing effective feedback to employees is a common requirement within many organisations. Investment in this area is critical, given the impact feedback can have on employee performance and motivation. Whilst training in this area may equip leaders with the skills required, a leader’s mindset, in some cases, can prevent them from actually implementing these skills appropriately.
A leader’s mindset can influence opinions as to which employees they believe can actually grow and develop into top talent, and therefore, who they will invest the bulk of their time in with. Additionally, their mindset can also have an impact on the effectiveness of the feedback. When we provide feedback to employees by praising ability and talent instead of process and effort, we run the risk of creating segregation between employees by sending the message that ‘some people have it and others just don’t’. Whilst organisations create “high potential” employee pathways and using high performers as role models for the rest of the organisation, importance should be placed on WHAT leaders are praising, as opposed to WHO!
Why is a growth mindset important for leaders?
Growth mindset can help leaders support employees in continuously learning and aspiring towards being better at what they do. These leaders also believe that they themselves are constantly learning and growing – making it an important foundation block for developing other leadership skills and behaviours.
Growth mindset is essentially a perspective adopted as to whether an individual’s qualities are fixed or changeable which can affect learning and achievement. People with a growth mindset believe that capability can continuously change through effort and continuous integration of feedback into development initiatives. These people are consciously and willingly vulnerable to other’s perception of their innate ability in order to continually learn, re-evaluative and increase potential. On the other hand, a fixed mindset sees an individual believe that qualities cannot be altered (any attempts to do so are futile), and any failed attempt to improve is perceived as a direct result an individual’s self-worth and competence.
Why should this matter?
Often, employee development attempts fail because individuals are provided feedback about their natural skills, talents and intelligence (or lack thereof), rather than focusing the feedback on effort and growth (the process towards success). By providing feedback that praises people for their intelligence, talent or ability, we are essentially saying that they have something others don’t, which can have negative consequences on employee motivation and performance. This can also work towards imbedding a fixed mindset culture, where people believe that intelligence and talent are fixed and unchangeable, making effort, learning and development appear pointless. This may, in turn, increase the gap between “top talent” and other employees, and potentially stunt the growth of top talent praised for their ‘gifts’ rather than their effort.
‘praise process not ability’
When positive feedback is attributed to effort and growth, we can work towards a growth mindset culture, which can result in (Delaney et. al, 2015):
- Employees having greater trust in their company
- Employees having a greater sense of ownership over their work
- Employees having greater commitment to the company
- Employees having greater support for innovation, creativity and risk taking
- Supervisors having a more positive view of employees
- The company being viewed by employees as having greater management potential
Where to start?
- Start with leadership. Do the leaders (and managers) in the organisation have a growth mindset? If not, work on developing a growth mindset. Starting with leaders not only allows them to be able to identify growth and learning requirements in others, but will also assist in framing a mindset that change within the organisation is possible.
- Train leaders to provide feedback that praises effort and process over talent. This can help foster a growth mindset in others.
More and more, we are seeing a heightened interest in growth mindset workshops, both for development (including leadership development) and wellbeing. Development initiatives on growth mindset can assist in improving employee’s ability to both accept and provide effective feedback, improve motivation and belief that employees can develop and grow, and increase honest communication. Overall, a growth mindset can assist leaders to be able to effectively provide feedback to employees, and build capability within their teams.
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
Dweck, C., Murphy, M., Chatman, J., & Kray, L. (2014). New study findings: Why fostering a growth mindset in organizations matters [white paper]. Retrieved April 20, 2017 from Senn-Deleaney Leadership Consulting Group. http://knowledge.senndelaney.com/docs/thought_papers/pdf/stanford_agilitystudy_hart.pdf
Heslin, P. A., & Vandewalle, D. (2008). Managers’ Implicit Assumptions About Personnel (June 20, 2008). Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 17, pp. 219-223.
Kray, L. J. & Haselhuhn, M. P. (2007). Implicit negotiation beliefs and performance: Longitudinal and experimental evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 49-64.