As a leader, how do you recognize your employees’ achievements? Do you praise the outcome? Or do you praise the process that influenced the outcome?
To many leaders, these ideas are intertwined with one another. If someone works hard, they generally succeed – right? Not always. What about the people who naturally excel at a given task? What about a stroke of luck that plays out in an employee’s favor? As a leader, you have the power to influence mindset. The best leaders motivate, develop, and ultimately create more leaders, all while striking the balance between getting results and managing the processes that led to those results.
The Fixed Mindset - A Symptom of Exclusively Praising Outcomes
The fixed mindset largely relies on the idea that every single person has a predetermined threshold of abilities/talent, and a finite amount of resources to develop those abilities. The rest is up to luck. Having a fixed mindset enables people to settle on the “you either have it or you don’t” mentality, which cripples any intrinsic motivation for personal development. When you focus on your employees’ outcomes exclusively, you slap a label on every outcome, putting it into one of two buckets: success or failure. Rewarding the sales rep that got lucky on the first call the same amount as the rep who has tirelessly labored over one account for weeks does a few things that fuel the fixed mindset:
- It puts more stock into uncontrollable factors like talent and luck
- It increases the fear of failure (which drives cheating, mental withdrawal, or quitting altogether)
- It takes any perceived control out of your employee's hands, removing personal accountability
The Growth Mindset - Why You Should Praise the Process
The growth mindset prioritizes the importance of thinking strategically and achieving incremental progress rather than the outcome itself. By praising the process, you decrease the fear of failure by creating a third bucket: “work-in-progress.” The growth mindset, best described in this TedTalk by Carol Dweck, revolves around the idea that while we all have our differences, we also have the ability to grow and develop.
I grew up in a house that lived by the growth mindset. My father, an accomplished athlete, salesperson, CMO, COO, CEO, and entrepreneur drilled the same five or six ideologies into myself and my siblings from an early age. Many of these statements still hang on the walls of our basement:
- "Champions are made, not born"
- "The keys to success are attitude, personal accountability, and perseverance - in that order."
- "Progressive improvement is better than postponed perfection."
- "It takes more backbone than wishbone."
- "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."
I didn’t know it then, but every single one of these ideas coincides with the growth mindset. Talent and luck were “nice-to-haves” in our household, but process and work ethic (something we had control over) was valued above all else.
So often, employees fall into habits imposed upon them by the fixed mindset. Because they do not feel empowered or in control, they forget to ask questions, challenge thought processes, or innovate. When outcomes are the only thing that matters, they know that at the end of the day, they either did their job or they didn’t. Conversely, the growth mindset places control back into the hands of your employees, which empowers them to think and take ownership of their own development.
Leading with a Growth Mindset
The best leaders create new leaders. Leading with a growth mindset means praising the process your employee came up with, the strategy that landed your employee that big deal, and the steps your employee takes to improve his/her personal skill set on their own time. It means encouraging your employees to challenge the status quo, even if that means that they challenge you.
I ask again: As a leader, would you choose to praise the sales rep that “got lucky” with a quick win, or the sales rep that developed a strategic framework that ultimately enabled him/her to succeed, though at a slower rate? When you praise the outcome, it propels someone into the fixed mindset. But when you praise work ethic, process, perseverance, or improvement, it propels someone into the growth mindset- something much more valuable.