My childhood bedroom had bright red walls. It was my happy space. But at night, when the lights went out and I lay in bed in my dark room, I would conjure up Boogie Men hiding under my mattress or inside my closet.
Those fears from imagining all the monsters under our beds are much like our fears in adult life. Often, we put Boogie Men in our heads and have a ton of reasons for why we shouldn’t step out or jump off the bed.
When we do take that running start, leaping far away from the dust ruffle so our feet can’t be grabbed, when we race to turn on the light by the door…. nothing. Nothing happens. No Boogie Men are there.
If we could only remember this in our everyday lives: taking the plunge against fear is how a growth mindset works.
— Carol Seymour, CEO of Signature Leaders
Two Leadership Mindsets
Which serves us better in our organizations? Leaders with well-established talent and experience, but who stick to what they know to keep their self-confidence? Or leaders who embrace challenges and work through their fears, knowing doing so will increase their performance?
These are examples of two different mindsets. The first is more of a “fixed mindset,” with the person avoiding challenges because they believe failures define who they are as a person. The latter is someone who has a “growth mindset,” viewing mistakes as an aid to learning and essential to the process.
We should want leaders who size up the Boogie Men and decide to meet them head on.
At a recent Signature Circle learning session for women leaders at Canada-based insurance and financial services firm Manulife, Signature Leaders CEO Carol Seymour led a discussion about how leaders can cultivate a growth mindset in themselves. Joining Carol to bring this story to life and share his own experiences with these talented female leaders, was Leo Zerilli, Head of Manulife Investment Management, Canada
The conversation was sparked by ideas drawn from the works of Stanford University social psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck in her 2007 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck described the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset, and the implications of these different perspectives on the self.
At the time of the conversation, Canada, where most of the participants lived, was back in lockdown during another surge of COVID-19, while the U.S. was accelerating its rollout of vaccines. We were all living through a time of great uncertainty. It was a perfect time to explore the growth mindset.
What is a Growth Mindset?
We started by asking what a growth mindset meant to each of the leaders in the conversation.
Participants had different perspectives:
“It’s pushing and challenging yourself to learn new skills, each day trying to be better.” — Global Head of Marketing Strategy and Operations
"It’s being a bit uncomfortable because change only happens when you can step out of that comfort zone.” — Director, IFRS 17 & Accounting Projects
“Neurological research suggests you can change neural pathways and teach people at any age. You have to be open to the idea that you can grow and change.” — Director, Information Risk Management Strategy and Planning
“It’s recognizing that the status quo is not good enough. Whether it’s personal knowledge or career growth, you have to be a change agent for growth to happen.” — Leo Zerilli, Head of Manulife Investment Management, Canada.
“Optimism is a powerful emotion. Optimists show up every day trying again, never accepting defeat and pushing forward to cultivate growth.” — Leo Zerilli
That mindset of optimism and growth is good for the personal lives and careers of leaders, and also good for the organizations they lead.
How Can Leaders Cultivate a Growth Mindset?
Participants shared strategies that have helped them open their minds, keep learning at the forefront, spark new ideas, and explore new ways of thinking.
“I created a daily habit of four things. I write one page in my journal each morning, to get things out of my head and create a better perspective. I read five things every morning, from the Wall Street Journal to INsights. I write down one big idea I gained from my reading, and then I close my day with another journal entry of gratitudes to calm my mind.” — Global Head of Marketing Strategy and Operations
“Oftentimes, we get stuck focusing on what’s immediately in front of us or around us and this is limiting. I learned a great habit was to dream… taking time to imagine what my future can be. The advice to do that came from a peer on the executive team who challenged me to design my future - be the architect and not the victim.” — Leo Zerilli, Head of Manulife Investment Management, Canada.
Leaders who cultivate a growth mindset learn to see failures as growth opportunities.
They learn from them, then try again. They understand that, as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, “You might have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”
Cultivating a Culture of Growth
Leaders who cultivate a growth mindset in themselves also help create growth cultures.
Much like an individual’s growth, a company culture doesn’t change overnight from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. Like any change, it takes time, motivation, resilience, and hard work.
But as the growth mindset reminds us, our identity, our ability, our culture — none of it is static. By continually stretching beyond what’s familiar and known, leaders and their companies can grow into new ways of working and being. We can become more and better than we ever yet were, but only if we plunge forward through our fear.
Through our work with women leaders, Signature Leaders is helping companies shift their cultures toward a growth mindset that better equips them to thrive in the modern global economy. If your company needs help breaking out of a fixed mindset, contact us to discuss how we can help.