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What is Growth Mindset?

“A growth mindset ultimately allows you to realize and exceed your personal and relational potential. To bring out more than you ever thought possible in yourself AND others.” 

Skip Bowman, author of “Safe to Great – the New Psychology of Leadership”

In her 2006 book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” Carol Dweck introduced the concept of growth and fixed mindsets, which have now become pervasive in leadership discussions. Mindset is the language of contemporary leadership, offering insights into becoming a better leader, fostering productive teams, and building adaptive, sustainable organizations. 

Mindset is not a skillcompetency, or attitude, nor is it synonymous with personality. It’s akin to consciousness, a self-aware, self-regulating mental activity integrating feelings, senses, thoughts, and actions into patterns of relating to the world.

A growth mindset is the belief that one’s abilities and intelligence can be developed and improved over time through dedication, hard work, learning, and resilience. Individuals with a growth mindset tend to see challenges and failures as opportunities for growth and learning, rather than as setbacks. They embrace effort and persist in the face of difficulties, knowing that their abilities can evolve with time and practice. – Carol Dweck

The popularity of the growth mindset, highlighted by its influence in successful organizational transformations like that of Microsoft under Satya Nadella, has brought the concept into mainstream discourse. However, the academic foundation of growth mindset, particularly its reliance on internal beliefs, has faced scrutiny. Critics argue that it overlooks the significant impact of external factors—social, relational, and environmental—on an individual’s mindset.

According to Skip Bowman, mindset is an amalgamation of our reactions and adaptations to both internal and external stimuli. It involves our patterns of feeling, thinking, and acting in response to various events, ranging from everyday occurrences to unexpected challenges. This perspective acknowledges that our responses are influenced not just by internal processes but also by our interactions with the world around us.

–  Inner World:  For example, when faced with pain or disappointment, some individuals demonstrate resilience and grit, while others may struggle to cope.

–  Outer World:  Similarly, confrontations with aggressive individuals or accidents can elicit varying responses, from calm assertiveness, appeasement to aggression.

Mindset is our integrated patterns of feeling, thinking and acting in response to common, uncommon and surprising events both in our inner and outer world.

Mindset: Thinking about our Thinking

At its core, mindset revolves around the conscious reflection and deliberate orientation of our thoughts, emotions, and interactions. It necessitates a shift away from our innate, fear-driven, and automatic responses toward a more semi-automatic, purposeful approach. The essence of “thinking about thinking” implies that mindset is not a rigid trait but a malleable quality, cultivated through conscious effort. 

While certain individuals may naturally lean towards risk-taking behav­iors, others can cultivate the art of embracing risk by honing their mindset. They can learn to identify situations where taking calculated risks can yield positive outcomes, even when their natural inclination veers away from risk. 

This serves as an illustration of how mindset empowers individuals to surpass their inherent talents and prefer­ences. It highlights the idea that our mindset is not a fixed entity but a dynamic force that can be nurtured and developed, enhancing our capacity to navigate life’s myriad challenges and opportunities. 

Mindset, as a versatile concept, extends its influence into all aspects of our lives. It serves as a foundation for developing an array of skills, including risk-taking, assertion, and conflict resolution. Furthermore, it plays a pivotal role in honing our ability to collaborate, influence, and effectively lead others. 

Beyond its impact on skills, mindset also shapes our moral and social compass. It guides our understanding of what is right, ethical, and respectful in our interactions with others. Our moral and ethical decision-making is underpinned by our mindset, moulding our behavior and choices in a variety of personal and professional contexts. In essence, mindset is a fundamental factor that dictates how we engage with the world around us.

Growth Mindset vs. Protective Mindsets

Growth mindsets are oriented toward realizing and expanding both individual and relational potential. This means striving to exceed our own current capabilities while supporting others in reach beyond their DNA. These mindsets are characterized by qualities like realism, reflection, resilience, and intentionality. They promote a deeper level of self-awareness and a commitment to ongoing learning and personal growth. 

In contrast, protective mindsets often lack these qualities. They tend to be rooted in instinctive, protective patterns of thinking, feeling, and relating. While these protective modes can provide a sense of strength, safety, and correctness, they can also confine us within the boundaries of our natural or instinctive responses. In these modes, we may underestimate or limit our full potential. We are certainty unlikely to surpass our current capabilities.   

In this sense, Protective mindsets are like Dweck’s concept of a fixed mindset. 

Why do we not use the concept “Fixed Mindset”?

In the Safe2Great model, we work with three distinct types of protective mindset: controlling-competitive, complying-complacent, and cynical-skeptical. This classification is based on extensive research and a thorough examination of existing mindset theories. The primary advantage of this approach lies in its ability to pinpoint an individual’s mindset more accurately, allowing for a uniquely tailored pathway to a growth mindset.

The categorization provides a nuanced and precise assessment of an individual’s default thinking patterns. It moves beyond the conventional fixed-versus-growth mindset binary, offering a deeper understanding of how people approach challenges, learning, and change.

Different mindsets necessitate distinct strategies for nurturing a growth mindset. What may be effective advice for someone with a controlling-competitive mindset might not resonate with someone exhibiting a complying-complacent mindset. By identifying an individual’s specific mindset, it becomes possible to customize advice and interventions to address their unique requirements.

Understanding one’s predominant mindset type fosters self-awareness. It encourages individuals to reflect on their thought patterns and behaviors, serving as a critical initial step towards meaningful personal and professional growth.

A one-size-fits-all approach to mindset development can be limiting. Acknowledging the diversity of mindsets allows for a more adaptable and flexible approach to fostering growth. It recognizes that people embark on the journey to a growth mindset from various starting points.

Growth Mindset Compass indicating the relationships between 16 operating modes, 4 mindsets
Growth Mindset Compass indicating the relationships between 16 operating modes, 4 mindsets


In fact, when we work with leaders and teams, we have 16 operating modes that enable many highly unique and detailed mindset maps using the Growth Mindset Compass. The use of the Growth Mindset Compass is a sophisticated and comprehensive approach. It allows for a deep exploration of an individual’s or team’s mindset, offering a nuanced understanding of their thinking patterns, behaviors, and growth potential. This level of granularity is valuable for both leaders and teams in their journey toward personal and collective development.

Tailored advice speaks directly to an individual’s specific concerns and challenges, increasing their engagement with the process of developing a growth mindset. When advice resonates with their mindset type, individuals are more likely to embrace the path to growth.

As mentioned earlier, delving into the specifics of these mindset types will provide valuable insights into how individuals can transition from a protective mindset to a growth mindset. Each mindset type brings its own strengths and challenges to the table and addressing them with precision can lead to more effective and sustainable growth.

Crucially, when we operate in protective modes, we may inadvertently hinder the growth and development of others. The key to unlocking our full potential lies in adopting healthier mindsets that facilitate personal growth and empower us to uplift and support those in our circles. It’s a journey toward becoming the best versions of ourselves while helping others do the same. 

Embracing a growth mindset is akin to shedding the protective shell that constrains our potential. It involves navigating through vulnerability to uncover newfound confidence and courage, ultimately enabling us to reach new heights of personal and collective achievement.

The Ultimate Guide to Growth Mindset

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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