Encouraging Your Team to Embrace a Growth Mindset During These (Don’t Say It!) Unprecedented Times

Posted on August 24, 2020

Growth Mindset

This Morning Buzz is brought to you by Lynn Kelly-Lehner. I would love to connect with you on LinkedIn!


Currently reading: Designing Your Work Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. I highly recommend this book.


precedented times


You may be familiar with the trendy buzzwords “growth mindset” versus “fixed mindset,” which have been buzzing around business journals for the past few years. Carol Dweck coined these terms in the early 2000s with her work on motivation and development.  In an interview in 2012, Carol Dweck explained:

“In a fixed mindset, students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset, students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

 Good news: Dweck doesn’t argue that people have either an all growth mindset or totally fixed mindset, but that your mindset varies depending on the situation.

So now we find ourselves five months and change into quarantine life. The stress and the chaos have ebbed and flowed. It is likely you have had no option but to have a growth mindset at various points over the past few months (Remote learning? Virtual public meetings? Not to mention fighting racism!). But, when the mind is stressed and unbelievably taxed, it is highly likely that you have fallen into a fixed mindset not only for a matter of saving brain space, but maybe even survival. Guys, it has been ROUGH.

Luckily, some of us are mostly out of crisis mode and operating under the newish normal. Our minds have a bit more space. We seem to be settling in for the foreseeable future. (Sigh.) So let’s take this opportunity to learn how to put a growth mindset into action.

Here are ten ways to cultivate a growth mindset with you and your team.

  • Never stop learning. Even if your training budget was slashed recently, there are still many affordable options for training and growth. Attend webinars. Read books.  Read articles in your field (like Morning Buzz!). Conduct informational interviews. Be an active participant in professional organizations. Take a class through Coursera  or Udemy or watch a how to video on YouTube. And don’t keep all of this information to yourself! Share what you learn with your colleagues and discuss how ideas apply to your organization.
  • What can we improve here? Don’t go back to “normal.” Like it or not, there was so much that we have learned during this time. Please don’t waste it. What can you learn from the new policies and procedures you have adopted during the pandemic? How can you function more efficiently or innovatively? How can you better communicate with your team? What kind of digital or virtual processes can you adopt permanently? Now that we are kind of settled into work from home life, how can you improve your set up?
  • Write a procedures manual. This may seem like a boring, and perhaps counterintuitive idea. But by writing write out the steps to a process in detail, you may discover inefficiencies in that process. At the very least, you will create a tangible output that will help your team in the future if someone needs to fill in for you or you need to train your replacement. Fun fact: I once exclaimed to my Assistant City Manager, “I love policies and procedures!”  True story. And then I got to write procedures for that department too.
  • Debrief after big projects. That big project you have been working on for months is finished. Congratulations! What went well? What did very much did not? What lessons have you learned? What advice would you give to others embarking on a similar project? It is important to ask yourselves these questions and reflect with the entire team. It also can serve as a great way to celebrate a win and give a much needed morale boost.
  • Stretch assignments. Give stretch assignments to your direct reports. Take on stretch assignments yourself! What sort of stretch assignments have you had during the pandemic that you can add to your resume? Two of mine that I am very proud of: transitioning our department to virtual public meetings and creating and implementing a small business grant program with a VERY aggressive timeline.
  • Ask yourself – what do I want to learn? What is your ultimate career goal? Look at the job description for that job. How am I going to get from here to there? Where are the gaps? What do I need to learn and how can I learn it? Or, more simply – what interests you? It does not have to be related to your job, and there are endless ways to gather information. Talk to your direct reports about what their learning goals are as well. Even if there is not an opportunity for direct experience, you likely know someone they can talk to, so that they can learn more about that subject.
  • Expand beyond your job! OK Leslie Knope. You need some hobbies. Preferably something that has nothing to do with government. Through my fitness training, I have learned to be grittier. Through my travels, I have changed my perspective on life, I am inspired by the beauty of the world we live in, and the generosity of strangers.  When I am with my dog, I have learned how to be more present and patient. (She is quite demanding.) When my mind escapes the government box for a little while, that is often when my best ideas come to me.
  • Learn from the mistakes of others. In one of my jobs, long, long ago, I had a particularly bad supervisor. This supervisor was mean, condescending, irrational, and prone to outbursts. While it was not a great situation, I couldn’t escape it for some time. While I did not learn very much on how to be a leader or a great boss from this person, I certainly learned what NOT to do to be a great leader. This is just as important. In a less extreme example, be willing to share your mistakes with your team. Show your team that it is important to be vulnerable and real, and that everyone makes mistakes. Ask them what they would have done differently in the situation.
  • Seek criticism. This sounds like zero fun. But you can learn so much from constructive criticism. People are often hesitant to provide criticism because they don’t want to be mean. That helps no one. Ask for feedback and provide feedback to others – both praise and criticism!
  • Take the time you need to recharge. We have stressful jobs and stressful lives. If your brain is on autopilot, you are just going to keep on doing things the way you have been doing things. Ask for time off. Approve the vacation days for your direct reports, no questions asked, no snarky comments provided.
Close window