“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.” – Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success

It is fair to say that for many leaders today, the pace and scope of change in their organisational environment is unprecedented. The ability to adapt to change is key for leaders, but according to Paul Gibbons in “The Science of Organizational Change”, leading through change just doesn’t work very well, or very often in the wild. Why might that be? The problem is more likely down to the leadership than anything else.

Consider a case where some analysis has been done, and there is a good argument for organisational change. The question becomes: how can the change implemented? How is it led? There are various techniques including communication strategies, stakeholder engagement, and evaluation tools which can be deployed. Models of change management can be used, and boxes ticked. Leading the change is something else though – it involves psychology as well as mechanics. Let me contend this: people cannot control other people. Positions of authority can be weaponized in order to compel others, yes. There are times when this is necessary, for example in critical situations.

Fundamentally though people cannot be “fixed” to suit a different world view or an organisational initiative. “Fixing” others is an attempt at control, and few people appreciate attempts to control them in the long run. More likely an increasing resentment builds, leading to disengagement – and the employee engagement data support this concept of common rifts within organisations. There is a huge difference between (fruitless) attempts at control, and the discipline to simply influence positively. In the latter case, we accept limits of our agency. We accept that others will only take our advice, or model our behaviours, if they choose to do so. Here we seek collaborative approaches such as coaching.

By letting go of our expectations of control, we enter a new paradigm. On the one hand, we have frustration at times, because we might feel powerless. On the other, we can focus our limited resources on where they have some chance of success – inwardly.

So why might leaders struggle to put this into practice? This is anecdotal but perhaps:

  • fear
  • lack of self-confidence
  • impostor syndrome
  • isolation
  • being time poor
  • lack of empathy or respect for others
  • a need to be right
  • lack of awareness of reflective practice/critical thinking processes
  • lack of compulsion (how they are now is validated through trappings of success)

None of these reasons are indicative of a healthy growth mindset, but they are common. A fixed mindset (“I am right. There is nothing else.”) is on the same spectrum as growth mindset (“I could be wrong. There is everything else.”). According to Carol Dweck’s “Mindset” we all have elements of each within us, and the challenge is to recognise fixed mindset and develop the growth mindset as an alternative, where we can.

The growth mindset is curious. It accepts failure as part of the journey, and has determination to improve and get better because of high status, not despite it. It recognises effort rather than outcomes only. If you aspire to lead effectively through change, start by looking within and demonstrating those practices which allow evolution over time. Develop your growth mindset and model it for others.

One thing is for certain: the tide of change is always on the rise. The question is: as a leader, how will you choose to meet it?


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