My Path to a Growth Mindset & 7 Tips to Help You Acquire Yours

IMAGINE walking into a company where teams have been engaged in Scrum or Kanban for a few years. After careful observation you discover teams are practicing the mechanics of these frameworks but are still struggling to embrace the spirit and intent of them. If teams or organizations aren’t practicing the values or principles of an agility framework then they have one foot stuck in a waterfall world. I use to wonder why so many places seem to implement agile frameworks yet still work in a waterfall manner. Even though scrum is relatively simple and can be explained in about 10 minutes, it still seems to be very elusive. It wasn’t long before I realized the reason why companies struggle so much with agile.

Bottom line, without a growth mindset, agile won’t work. It’s critical to its success. I would argue it’s the #1 reason why agility transformations fail in organizations. Teams AND Leadership must possess this mindset. If not, the company is misaligned and agility falls flat. A growth mindset is the most difficult thing to acquire if you don’t inherently possess it. It can’t be easily taught and not everyone is equipped to teach it. It takes hard work and lots of practice to develop. If you have a fixed mindset you probably think you can’t acquire a growth one. Well it IS possible. I had a very fixed mindset at one time and I was able to shift to a growth mindset. I was a negative “it can’t be done because…” type of person. I always saw how things would fail. I’m far from that now. I’m completely the opposite. In fact one of my recent direct reports once called me “disgustingly positive”. How did I change? Well, let me share my transformation journey with you.

My first managerial position is where my journey began. I was offered a position to manage a team of business analysts which eventually expanded to include tech writers and user experience designers. I was very excited about taking on the role. I immediately ran out and acquired any information that could help me make the leap to becoming a manager. I read books, took a company online course, consulted with others who had made the switch and talked with seasoned managers for advice. When I went into the position I felt I was ready for it. Shortly into the role however things went astray.  A former BA myself, I worked with the developers my team was now engaging. I felt since I had a long relationship with the developers, I knew what my team needed to do to be successful with them. I would specifically tell my team what actions to take and how. I reviewed their work and gave them feedback which was mostly negative and filled with promoting my solutions. I never even gave a simple “Nice job” to them. I totally believed I was helping them succeed. I was removing the obstacles I believed they had and giving them the tools they needed to succeed in our environment. Then one day out of the blue my boss called me into his office. He told me he met with my team and had feedback to share.

Thinking I was going to get raving reviews, you can imagine how devastated I was to learn my team hated my managerial style. They even called me a micro-manager which made me shutter as that was something I never wanted to become. As my boss gave me the feedback, I made excuses and became defensive. I explained how I was helping them and my communication style though blunt and direct was honest. He continued to provide more feedback but I had stopped listening at that point as I was fueled with anger. My hearing perked up though when he finally said things were changing and I may not have a team to manage if I didn’t turn things around. My heart sunk. What was I going to do? Fortunately for me, I had a friend who was just starting a coaching practice. She offered to coach me through this. She first coached me on empathy and emotional intelligence. She was able to get me to understand that words invoke emotions and I need to be more conscious of “what” I said over “how” I said it. She recommended I read the book “Crucial Conversations” to help with my conversation style. It was a hard road – an analytical mind learning about feelings?

The first time we role played, I got very frustrated. Every time I used a word, she explained the negative emotions it could ignite. In less than 5 minutes I ran out of words to use. I became so frustrated I wanted to quit. She never gave up on me though. Despite my frequent “quits”, I stuck with it. I felt awkward and uncomfortable. My communication became disjointed and unpolished. I had a lot of missteps and mistakes. I kept practicing. Slowly I began to think about things in a more positive way and my conversations improved. I took the “opposite” approach to ask questions and to use more positive words. When negativity rose in my mind or conversation, I tried to think of one thing that was positive and I focused on that. When someone said something couldn’t be done, I asked “What would we need to get it done?” I started to listen closely to words and tone of voice and noticed facial expressions. This led to realizing when empathy was needed. When the urge to explicitly direct my team on what to do surfaced, I repeatedly told myself “My way only works for me, help them find their way. Leave your ego behind”.

Within 3 months, I turned it around. My team reported to my boss things were tremendously better and I was providing the support they needed rather than the support I wanted them to have. My boss said he didn’t know of anyone who could have turned things around so quickly. My command and control, fixed mindset was starting to vanish. Yet my journey was only beginning. I still had a ways to go. I often slipped back to fixed mindset and my blunt communication was still present in certain situations. I had more to learn about conquering negativity and growth mindset. So I decided to embark on a learning quest to study more about positive thinking. I read many books (which I recommend below) to continue my mindset transition. I practiced techniques with family and friends. I learned to let go of my ego more and focused more on others and their needs. I created a list of “messages” to tell myself when I slipped back into fixed mindset. I planted the seed in my brain, “I’m just a companion on someone else’s journey; enjoy the ride and help when I can”. I visualized what others with a growth mindset would do.

My journey to growth mindset was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. Despite the pain, anxiety, and frustration I went through…it was worth it. I’m not “cured” by any stretch. I still fall into fixed mindset on occasion. But now I have the tools to quickly emerge from it. I know how to manage it before it does any damage. Growth mindset is the foundation for servant leadership. I needed to acquire this mindset to become a good leader, scrum master and coach. Hopefully by now you can see why mindset is so important and also why it takes a backseat in training sessions. If you don’t have the growth mindset know that it can be achieved. Here are some tips and recommended reading that may help you find yours.

Tips:

  1. Get some coaching – My mindset would not have changed if I didn’t get some career coaching. Changing your mindset is hard and requires outside help and support.
  2. Be patient – It will take time and you will fail, feel awkward, be stretched way out of your comfort zone and feel like quitting multiple times. Don’t quit! You can get through it.
  3. Acquire a support system – Look to others to help you. Practice with family and friends. Tell them what you’re doing and why. Ask for feedback about how you made them feel and where you may have dipped into the negativity pool.
  4. Continue to learn – Read or listen to as many books, articles videos as you can. Explore what creating a mindset means and how to keep it. Find people who already have the growth mindset. Watch them. Learn what they do and how they handle situations.
  5. Develop a toolkit – Create messages, phrases, rituals, etc. that will help you when you enter into a fixed mindset. Repeat them over and over again until it becomes a habit for you to use them.
  6. Find the positive – Even when something seems so bad, if you try hard enough you can find a small little bit of positivity. Focus on it and use it to keep the conversation and yourself above the line.
  7. Change your lens – Look at things from all different angles or the opposite of how you normally looked at them. Try to find ways you can grow in a situation rather than ways you can’t improve. Take action on your discoveries to facilitate your growth.

Recommended Readings/Videos:

“Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson

“Miracles are Guaranteed” by Bill Ferguson

“Mindset” by Carol Dweck

“Drive” by Danial Pink

“The 5 Levels of Leadership” by John C. Maxwell

“What Got You Here Won’t Keep You There” by Marshall Goldsmith

“Emotional Intelligence 2.0” by Travis Bradberry

Above the Line Thinking” by The Consciousness Leadership Group

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