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Mindset and Change

The topic of keeping up with change is on the minds of my clients more than ever. The Center for Creative Leadership states that of the 5 derailing behaviors which can hurt a leader, the number one in importance is failure to adapt and change. A few years ago, that trait was not number one. What made it move to first place?

First, what is a derailing behavior? “Derailed” is a term that Morgan McCall and Mike Lombardo coined over 30 years ago to refer to the careers of high-performing employees identified as having potential to move up in the organization and take on higher levels of leadership responsibility; but who don’t live up to that evaluation of their potential. These managers’ careers have derailed from the track that their organization had expected them to stay on.

I see clients every day whose anxieties take over their actions and they cannot face change. Let’s start with personal change. The ability to lead change can only happen when that person is comfortable in their own personal change first. It can be hard for leaders to learn new ways to operate. Let’s say the manager is trying to embrace a new habit of listening better in one on one meetings with her people. She may find it hard to keep her mouth shut or to let the employee finish. Maybe it’s because she is anxious that if she doesn’t get her words in, that the direct report will not know what to do… so the manager dominates the conversation. The anxiety of possible poor performance is so strong that she won’t ask the employee what they can do to improve, so she fills the conversation with advice. Instead of asking what is getting in that person’s way and how they can improve, the manager blabs on and on.

What does that manager need to do? Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls it shifting into  a growth mindset, a view of ourselves in which we see our skills and abilities as subject to development, rather than a fixed mindset, in which we view such traits as inherent and impossible to change. Perhaps that manager feels she cannot possibly change because she has always done it this way. Dweck’s research shows that people with a growth mindset are more resilient when experiencing setbacks and more persistent in the face of obstacles. Both these qualities can be valuable when seeking to develop and change.

In order for her to change, she needs to get in touch with her beliefs about herself. What is she telling herself? How fixed is her mindset? She then should test that belief and be open to trying another technique with her direct reports. Old habits die hard, but she must face this and change or else she will fail as a leader. I bet this shows up in other aspects of her life as well: needing to be right, wanting control, always having the answer and the anxiety that comes with letting go of the need to be right.

When she sees that she can change, she can learn to actively manage her emotions, and be open to growing in new ways.


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