Mindsets and Carol Dweck

CarolDweck2The woman in the picture is Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., a professor in the Psychology department at Stanford University and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Over two years ago, I read an article about Prof. Dweck’s work in the Stanford Magazine. Today, I finally read her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, which I happen to own in an autographed copy purchased at the Stanford Bookstore.

Just like research on leadership behaviors, there is so much in Prof. Dweck’s research that resonates with what most leaders eventually learn at the school of hard knocks and we all wish we’d learned sooner. Because our behaviors, in the end, are rooted in our mindsets.

In a nutshell, people are usually of one of two mindsets. The “fixed mindset” maintains that people’s ability is innate and static; the “growth mindset” claims that ability is the result of hard work and a learning process. Each of us tends to apply one of these two beliefs, to other people as much as to ourselves, as we go through life; and this has far-reaching consequences for our success and our relationships with those around us.

Of course, empirical evidence from all sorts of fields (from neuroscience to athletic coaching) tells us that the brain has remarkable plasticity, that performance is far more likely to result from sustained effort, and that people are coachable. But they have to be open and willing to grow: no amount of coaching will improve performance if the subject is stuck in a “fixed mindset”. It has been proven experimentally that even toddlers have one of the two mindsets (I can certainly relate this to my own experience as a child, and some of my residual barriers as a grown-up); and that mindset strongly correlates with performance even when it is briefly and temporarily induced.

The book is filled with illustrations from the world of sports, business, and education; for example, it is interesting to contrast the career of a fixed-mindset athlete like John McEnroe with those of growth-mindset ones such as Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and many other less well-known athletes. But beyond this, there are some persuasive insights about how we could bring about societal change. For example, it is the combination of fixed mindsets with gender stereotyping that explain why many girls and young women who decide to pursue maths and science studies end up leaving the field. Only the women with the growth mindset feel a strong and stable sense of belonging and are able to maintain it in the face of challenges.

Read this diagram by Nigel Holmes about the two mindsets, and read the book if you’d like to learn more (if I’ve stimulated you into a growth mindset, so to speak). I’d love to hear whether it resonates with your experiences.


Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology
Department of Psychology, Stanford University

Leadership and Debra Benton

The woman in the picture is executive coach, speaker and author Debra (D.A.) Benton.

You know that leadership is something I think about a lot. One of the most useful reference frames about leadership I’ve ever heard (and I owe this one to a select group of Stanford faculty) is that it’s not practical to think of leadership as the product of intrinsic charisma you’re born with: if you deconstruct leadership, it boils down to a set of behaviors you choose to apply deliberately, consistently and relentlessly.

Debra is not an academic; I think her books are among the clearest and most usable guides to those behaviors. I met Debra a couple of times many years ago and we’ve occasionally stayed in touch over time. She lives and breathes what she preaches. You can even tell from reading her: she’s not just telling you to “use short, sharp sentences”: she does it.

Her latest book, CEO Material, re-uses some of the themes in her previous books – the basics of her teachings haven’t changed, after all – synthesized in a crisp package. It’s all about how you get to be described as “memorable, impressive, credible, genuine, trusted, liked, cool, calm, collected, charismatic, comfortable, competent, and confident.” And that’s the way she is. Sure, it’s hard work, and I’m particularly bad at some of it (smiling to strangers in an elevator, striking up a pleasant conversation with the person sitting next to you on the plane), and I don’t do it all. But what I do, I do because I believe it works.

One more thing I particularly like: Debra’s style teaches you to infuse reciprocity and exchange (the stuff that academics tell you influence is made of) with kindness, courtesy, decency and integrity. There’s no sustainable leadership without integrity. Make all the fun you want about American leadership literature as self-help for aspiring leaders. As long as there is a moral compass guiding those leadership behaviors, I’m fine with it.