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Beyond Growth Mindset: Embracing the Self-Transforming Mind

The key to opening the mind is discovering your mindset anchors - what makes you safe but holds you back.

“When Carol Dweck writes about a growth mindset, she seems to be defining a learning mindset. Growth is something different. It’s transformational rather than incremental.”


In recent years, Carol Dweck’s concept of a growth mindset has gained significant traction in educational and professional circles. This mindset, characterized by the belief in the malleability of intelligence and abilities, is praised for fostering resilience and a positive attitude towards learning and challenges. However, when placed under the microscope of developmental psychology, particularly Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey‘s stages of adult development, a question arises: Does the growth mindset, as posited by Dweck, fully capture the developmental opportunities presented by a self-transforming mind?

Dweck’s Growth Mindset: A Closer Look

Carol Dweck’s growth mindset has been a beacon for learners and leaders alike, encouraging a view of intelligence and skills as qualities that can be developed through dedication and hard work. While this mindset advocates for adaptability and perseverance, it predominantly operates within an existing framework of knowledge and understanding. 

Kegan’s Self-Transforming Mind: A Deeper Developmental Stage

Contrast this with Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey’s concept of the self-transforming mind. This stage, which represents a more advanced level of personal development, involves not just the adaptation to new challenges but a fundamental transformation of one’s framework of understanding. It’s about embracing complexity, holding multiple perspectives, and navigating the interplay of various systems and ideologies. This kind of mental and emotional flexibility goes beyond what Dweck’s growth mindset typically entails.

You can read some more about their ideas on self-transformation in their book “Immunity to Change”

The Learning Mindset and Leadership Limitations

In leadership scenarios, a learning mindset – which is more aligned with Dweck’s growth mindset – often focuses on acquiring and applying new knowledge within existing paradigms. While valuable, this approach can be limiting in complex leadership situations that demand not just new strategies, but a complete overhaul of thought processes and belief systems. The ability to reorganize cognitive and emotional patterns is crucial in such contexts, something that a mere learning mindset may find challenging to address.

Navigating Complexity with the Self-Transforming Mind

In contrast, the self-transforming mind, as described by Kegan and Lahey, equips leaders with the capacity to embrace the uncertainty and complexity that define many modern leadership challenges. This advanced mindset enables a leader to not just react to change but to anticipate and shape it, fostering a culture of innovation and transformative thinking.

Conclusion: Reframing Growth Mindset with ‘Safe to Great’

In redefining the concept of a growth mindset, it’s enlightening to consider the ‘Safe to Great’ approach, which perceives the growth mindset as akin to the self-transforming mind. This perspective is pivotal in understanding the depth of development possible within the realm of leadership and personal growth. 

Our model, delineating the four zones of development – survival mode, protective mindset, learning mindset, and growth mindset – offers a nuanced framework that contributes significantly to this shift. Each zone represents a distinct stage in the developmental journey, with the growth mindset at its pinnacle not just as an adaptive learning stance but as a transformative developmental phase.

This growth mindset, as conceptualized in our model, transcends the traditional boundaries set by Dweck’s definition. It’s not merely about resilience or learning within a given framework; it’s about profound, transformative development. It involves the capacity to reshape not only how we approach challenges and learning but also how we perceive ourselves and our interconnectedness with the broader systems around us.

Final Thoughts

By situating the growth mindset within this broader, more developmental context, we pave the way for a more comprehensive understanding of personal and leadership evolution. It’s a call to leaders and organizations alike to recognize that true growth extends beyond adapting and learning – it’s about transforming. In doing so, we not only enhance our leadership capabilities but also contribute to creating organizations that are resilient, innovative, and truly transformative in nature.

Skip Bowman, keynote speaker on psychological safety and growth mindset

Skip Bowman

Author of Safe2Great, keynote speaker on psychological safety and growth mindset

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