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The Safe to Great Study: Journey and Insights

Skip's research, prominently featured in his seminal work "Safe to Great," underscores the potency of the growth mindset in driving profound organizational change.
Safe to Great Book - Skib Bowman

In 2015, Skip Bowman embarked on a fascinating journey to merge psychological safety and growth mindset into a unified model for leadership and organizational culture.

Armed with a strong background in understanding behavioral and cultural patterns, he recognized the wealth of existing research on motivation, innovation, emotional intelligence, learning, and collaboration.

However, his goal was to refurbish these concepts to tackle modern challenges such as climate change, the rise of advanced technology, and the increasing importance of mental well-being.

The essence of Bowman’s work revolved around shaping six leadership principles focused on growth.

These principles were born from a blend of fresh insights and proven high-performance principles.

Simultaneously, he outlined ten protective principles by drawing from experts like John Kotter, Daniel Goleman, and Lynda Gratton.

These protective principles were designed to counterbalance unproductive leadership behaviors and cultivate resilient organizational cultures.

A pivotal spectrum in categorizing behaviors stretches between task-centered and people-centered approaches. Bowman theorized that optimal growth occurs when individuals harmonize task-related challenges with interpersonal encouragement.

Among the six growth principles, three are task-oriented, revolving around intrinsic motivators such as purpose, self-determination, excellence, and learning. These principles – Transform, Aim High, and Explore – complement the people-oriented trio of Go High, Lift Others Up, and Team Up. The latter leverage prosocial motivators like positive energy, recognition, fairness, and connection.

To translate these ideas into measurable outcomes, Bowman and his team created tools that unravel the intricate interplay between mindset and vital results such as effectiveness, commitment, and psychological safety.

Four assessment instruments – the Growth Mindset Leadership 360, the Great Teams assessment, the Change Champion tool, and the Culture for Growth survey – were developed.

These tools, when benchmarked globally, offer a comprehensive evaluation of leaders, teams, and organizations in terms of growth principles and protective mindsets.

This comprehensive analysis quantifies an individual’s inclination towards a growth mindset and measures their reliance on protective behaviors.

Eight years later, the impact of Bowman’s work is unmistakable.

Having evaluated numerous leaders and global corporations across industries, a consistent pattern emerges.

Leaders who earnestly practice the six growth principles, steering clear of protective behaviors, foster highly effective teams, unwavering commitment, and a robust sense of psychological safety.

Teams that rank themselves as the most effective across 16 performance parameters are led by individuals who score above the 70th percentile compared to the global average of leaders in terms of the Growth Mindset Leadership principles.

Notably, these leaders also rank below the 40th percentile in controlling-competitive mindset behaviors. In essence, when it comes to great teams, it’s paramount to nurture and demonstrate growth leadership principles while simultaneously eliminating the detrimental habits of controlling-competitive behavior.

What might come as a surprise is that leaders who score highest on confidence and ready for promotion, exhibit highly anti-social behaviors. They display confidence, but don’t inspire confidence in others – their teams are not the most effective at all.

Bowman’s study recaptures a profound finding from earlier research – we promote people not based on effectiveness or even results, but rather on based on confidence.

While leaders with a growth mindset are also confident, they often have a strong sense of humility.

The research confirms that controlling leadership styles are commonplace but are negatively correlated with effectiveness and psychological safety. Bossy leaders make people feel unsafe and reduce performance.

Employees working under leaders who embody growth leadership principles are notably more committed, productive, and collaborative. This speaks volumes about the positive impact of growth-minded leaders on their teams.

Bowman’s research, prominently featured in his seminal work “Safe to Great: The New Psychology of Leadership,” underscores the potency of the growth mindset in driving profound organizational change.

By seamlessly weaving psychological safety, growth principles, and protective paradigms, Bowman offers a fresh perspective on leadership, providing a roadmap to navigate today’s intricate challenges.

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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