Last week I watched my nearly three-year-old get more and more frustrated as she unsuccessfully attempted to swaddle her doll like a baby.  It didn’t take long before the frustration got too much. She looked at me deflated, tears welling in her eyes, and said, “I can’t do it, Mummy”.

I was troubled by how quickly she decided she couldn’t do it and gave up altogether.  In that moment I felt a huge sense of responsibility as a parent to help my daughter grow up with the resilience, tenacity and belief that she could do things if she put in the effort.

Dr Carol Dweck, a leading researcher on motivation and achievement, calls this having a Growth Mindset. This is the idea that ability and intelligence is not fixed and that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and to solve problems.  The research is clear – our mindset shapes our lives.

People with a growth, rather than a fixed mindset work harder, focus on learning, and persevere in the face of setbacks.

How often do you hear your team, or yourself, say, “I can’t do it” or “It’s too hard”? And how is this getting in the way of achieving the goals you set? As a leader you can play a crucial role in helping your people develop a growth mindset.

Here are three things you can do to coach a growth mindset in your team, yourself, and your kids:

  1. Reward the process – Dweck tells us it is critical to praise the processes that led to the success, not just the outcomes[1]. This could be asking for help, taking a risk, or researching different approaches.
  2. Learn from failure – Encourage and praise risk taking. And when it goes wrong, reflect on what got in the way and how to make sure it doesn’t happen next time.
  3. Listen for your own mindset – Lead by example and start by noticing the cues you give about your own mindset. As Eduardo Briceño, one of Dweck’s collaborators, suggests, every time you catch yourself saying “I can’t do it”, finish the sentence with “yet”[2].

[1] Dweck, What Having a Growth Mindset Actually Means, HBR (January 2016)

[2] Briceño, The Power of Belief, TedX Manhattan Beach (October 2012)