Managing a big project can be overwhelming. Yet many of the obstacles and team leadership issues project managers face stem from the way they respond to challenges, mistakes, and constructive criticism from their team. Psychologist Carol Dweck explained that people respond to hardships with either a growth mindset or a fixed one. The former consistently outperform the latter. In fact, the latter tends to create issues in not only their own performance, but also in the the team they are managing.
Let’s take a closer look at how a fixed mindset can get in the way of you successfully managing your project, and how to fix it.
How Will Having a Fixed Mindset Affect You and Your Team?
- Make it harder to handle challenges: Dweck explained that leaders with a fixed mindset “plateau early and achieve less than their full potential” in terms of team leadership. Leaders with this mindset tend to feel discouraged when things don’t go their way, feel that their intelligence is tested when they fail, and have a harder time growing. That’s because they tend to feel that making mistakes means lacking innate ability, and as a result often end up avoiding challenges. Yet challenges come with the job of being a project manager, as do calculated risk taking and innovation.
- Make it harder to learn: With a fixed mindset, leaders have a harder time changing course when something goes wrong in the project. They’re also less equipped to learn from the situation or to persist and fix the issue.
- Create a fixed-mindset team culture: Over time, a fixed mindset can not only slow a project, but also influence team members to adopt a similar approach to project issues. A manager with a fixed mindset can unknowingly create a team culture in which challenges make people defensive. In such cases, blame prevails over taking responsibility.
- Influence team members to run from difficulty: Team members may worry more about being judged than learning from mistakes, and will be more focused on pleasing upper management rather than being transparent. Innovation is difficult with a fixed mindset, and groupthink may prevail, causing team members to run from difficulty rather than facing it.
- Will get in the way of feedback: People with a fixed mindset tend feel that accepting blame means accepting inferiority, rather than seeing it as an opportunity to improve. This will get in the way of learning from constructive criticism and may cause people to react negatively.
Why is a Growth Mindset So Important?
According to Dweck’s research, leaders with a growth mindset reach higher levels of achievement and team leadership. Growth-mindsetters have a “not yet” rather than an “I failed” attitude, and see hardship as a chance to improve. They understand that they can alter their skills, abilities, and intelligence through effort. They also value effort and the journey rather than talent and innate ability. As a result, they are much more adept at learning, correcting, growing, and maximizing project productivity.
How To Make Growth Mindset a Habit in You and Your Team
1. Remember About Brain Plasticity
Understanding that your brain is capable of change and growth, will give you reassurance to see challenges from a different point of view. Neuroplasticity research shows that our brains are extremely flexible, and are capable of rewiring themselves. That means with enough practise, experience, and learning, you can change the neural connections in your brain, build new behaviours, and make new habits. This not only means that any challenges are merely roads to neural growth and improved ability, but also that growth mindset self-talk can become a habit with enough practise.
2. Recognize Fixed Mindset Self-Talk
Dweck explained that when people with a fixed mindset approach a challenge, they often convince themselves that they don’t have innate ability to overcome it. If you are being criticized, a fixed-mindset might make you revert the blame onto someone or something else, or get defensive. The first step to changing this negative internal dialogue, is to recognize it, and stop to reflect when it happens.
3. “Talk Back” to Your Fixed-Mindset
The next step is to understand that you have a choice regarding how to approach setbacks, challenges, or criticism. You can interpret them as a sign of you lacking ability, or as signs that you simply need to improve your strategy and effort.
If you consistently practise responding to your fixed mindset voice, with a growth-mindset approach, the latter will eventually become solidified in your brain. For example:
- When you think you cannot overcome a project risk: tell yourself, “I might not be able to do it now, but I will be with time, planning, effort”.
- If you get criticized, rather than transferring blame, tell yourself, “ If I don’t listen and take responsibility, I can’t fix it and improve.”
4. Take Growth Mindset Actions
- Set mini-goals: By creating short-term goals that align with a long-term, bigger plan, you’ll increase your chances (and efficiency) of getting there. Accomplishing your goals step-by-step will also make it easier to stay motivated and persevere. The highly effective OKR system is a great strategy for setting and monitor your goals, as well as for team leadership.
- Create more learning experiences: Focusing on development and improvement (rather than outdoing others) will become a habit with enough practise. Make a point of choosing difficult tasks and stretching yourself, while acknowledging that learning is a messy mistake-filled process.
- Practice self-reflection: How can you learn and grow from an obstacle if you don’t take the time to think about what went wrong and what you can do differently next time? When mistakes happen, be sure to focus on rationalizing why you’ll be able to figure it out.
- Take it from people with grit: Surrounding yourself with people who persevere towards their goals, will help strengthen the mindset required to increase your own resilience and grit. We tend to learn from and adopt the qualities of the people we spend the most time with!
5. Build a Growth-Mindset Team Culture
- Encourage feedback: People with a growth mindset value feedback because they see it as an opportunity to grow, while those with a fixed mindset see it as a test or judgement of their ability. Learn how to embrace constructive criticism without taking it personally, and set a good example for your team to do the same. An important component of team leadership is encouraging your team to voice opposing viewpoints and debate, so you can see holes in your strategy. Consider implementing an anonymous suggestions box to help your team contribute to the decision-making process.
- Give negative feedback properly: Making constructive criticism a norm within your team means learning how to give it properly. Providing honest constructive comments in a way that is encouraging rather than demotivating is not always easy, but essential for team leadership success.
- Praise effort and strategy: Results are important, but remembering to give positive feedback for effort and strategy will reinforce a growth-mindset culture within your team.