The Mindset of Bold Grace

You’re in charge of your mind. You can help it grow by using it in the right way. ~Carol Dweck

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m spending 2020 exploring leadership from the perspective of bold grace. This journey includes asking lots of questions. For example, is there a mindset that undergirds a leader with bold grace?

This question reminded me of a conversation with a group of leaders last year. I was working with a client to create a shared understanding and define behavioral expectations for employees. Included in one of the definitions was to ask questions and to “be curious.” One of the organization’s leaders pushed-back on the idea to “be curious.” He simply didn’t get it; it didn’t make any sense to him. Why would we want to encourage employees to be curious?

Mindset Shifts

I think that as leaders move up in organizations sometimes their mindset shifts, and it’s not necessarily for the better. Authors reference it differently but the concept is the same. Whether it’s Carol Dweck’s reference to a fixed mindset vs a growth mindset or if it’s Marilee Adams who calls it a judger mindset vs a learner mindset. A judger (fixed mindset) will defend their assumptions, be a bit of a “know-it-all” and their primary mood is to be protective. Contrast that with a learner (growth mindset). This is someone who values not-knowing, questions their assumptions, and their primary mood is to be curious.

Another aspect that contrasts the judgers from the learners is their response to feedback. Someone with a judger mindset perceives feedback as rejection. An individual with a learner mindset will perceive feedback as very worthwhile, maybe even a gift.

As I work with leaders at various levels throughout an organization, the individuals in roles that would be considered middle management tend to be far more open to feedback. To them it’s worthwhile because if they don’t grow and change, they will stay in middle management. However, when I work with top-level leaders they many times reject, and I would say fear, feedback. Because they have already achieved a top leadership position, in their minds feedback can only mean one thing—rejection or failure.

We equate continued growth (i.e., valuing not-knowing, questioning our own assumptions) with our assent up additional rungs on the career or leadership ladder. If there are no more rungs, then any need for change or growth is well, rejection. That’s a prime example of a judger or a fixed mindset.

The Virtue of Curiosity

Back to where I started. If we are not curious (a necessity for growth), or don’t even perceive curiosity as a positive virtue, then we certainly don’t want to hear feedback that might allow us to learn and grow. Being curious, asking for feedback, those are not signs of weak leadership. Just the opposite, they are symbols of bold grace.

If leaders want to use their mind in the right way, as Dweck suggests, then they may need to change the questions they are asking. For example, Adams in Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, suggests some of those questions might be:

  • What do I want?
  • What are the facts?
  • What assumptions am I making?
  • What can I learn?

This week, think about what questions you are asking. What’s your mindset? Are you a judger or a learner?

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