Carol DweckIt’s easy to be impressed by the natural leader, the brainy student, the gifted musician or the star athlete. “What talent!” we think. But talent alone doesn’t lead to success, says Carol Dweck, noted psychologist and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. “Success comes with a growth mindset.”

People with a “growth mindset” believe that ability or talent can be developed, says Dweck. In contrast, people with a “fixed mindset” see ability as built-in: “You either have it or you don’t.”

Dweck’s research has shown that our beliefs about innate talent can either support or stifle success. If you have a growth mindset, you are willing to take risks, accept mistakes and seek out chances to learn. You become resilient and view setbacks and challenges as learning opportunities.

The belief that you can’t improve your ability actually stunts achievement. If you have a fixed mindset, you feel the pressure to repeatedly prove yourself in areas of “strength” and you avoid activities and experiences that may reveal weaknesses. As a result, you don’t gain the experiences, perspectives or skills that are needed to succeed at work or adapt to change. A fixed mindset also makes it hard to admit to or correct mistakes.

Dweck has also challenged the view that innate ability fuels self-confidence. In the short-term, people feel good and confident because of their natural abilities — until setbacks or challenges cause them to question themselves. People with a growth mindset derive self-confidence from the very act of taking on challenges and pursuing them with vigor.

What are the implications of Dweck’s work for leaders? “To succeed in a world where our work is always changing, where challenges are unpredictable and competition abounds, we need to be agile learners,” says CCL’s President and CEO, John Ryan. “We need to apply our new knowledge. Perhaps most of all, we need to believe we can rise to the challenge.”

“By taking on a growth mindset, we can learn new behaviors and modify deep-set behaviors at any age,” Ryan continues. “It takes hard work and real focus, but all of us really can learn new and effective behaviors — and help take our organizations to new levels of performance.”

Dweck agrees. “If an organization believes in natural talent, they are not developing the potential talent,” she says. “Not only are these organizations missing out on a big pool of possible leaders, but their belief in natural talent might actually squash the very people they think are the naturals, making them into defensive nonlearners. The lesson is: Create an organization that prizes the development of ability — and watch the leaders emerge.”

Which mindset do you have?

Answer these questions about intelligence. Read each statement and decide whether you mostly agree or disagree with it.

  1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
  2. You can learn new things but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
  3. No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
  4. You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.

Questions 1 and 2 are fixed mindset questions. Questions 3 and 4 reflect the growth mindset. Which mindset did you agree with more?

You also have beliefs about other abilities. You could substitute artistic talent, sports ability or business ability for intelligence. Or personal qualities, too. Try it.

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