Cultivating the attitude that matters

April 5, 2019

Talented people seeking to progress always ask us the same question ‘What do I have to do to get to the top?’.

That’s the wrong question. Whist there are many practical things that individuals can do to ensure they get spotted there is one attribute without which no amount of doing will help.

That attribute is attitude. You cannot change your career path without changing your mindset.

We climb the organisational pyramid by doing more of what we know.  We get promoted because we have more knowledge.  We sell more. We take faster decisions. We make better choices. In short, we personally achieve.

In time, this drive to achieve becomes its own reward. When we achieve, we feel good. When we feel good, we do more of the same. When we do more of the same, we grow our achievement mindset further and on and on it goes.

But there comes a point in your career when doing more achieves very little and can actually become counter-productive.  In fact, over-arousal of personal achievement drive is probably the biggest derailer on the trajectory to senior leadership roles.

Senior leadership roles are about impact and influence not personal delivery.

So how do you let go of what has made you successful to date, but will more likely hold you back from now on?

Professor of Psychology at Stamford University, Carol Dweck, calls the answer to this the ‘growth mindset’ and this is clearly distinguished from its opposite number, the ‘fixed mindset’. If you believe you are operating at the top of your game and spend your time seeking to prove this, you will never develop and move forward – that’s the fixed mindset. If, on the other hand, you believe that your potential is unlimited, then you will focus on developing new habits, acquiring new skills and these in turn will lead to you progressing further.  That’s the growth mindset.

What are the practical things you can do to develop this mindset which lies at the heart of rapid career progression?

Through the course of our research we have unearthed 5 mindset changing habits that must be deployed to ensure senior leaders see you as promotion-ready.

  1. Make a list of what you don’t know

There is always something we don’t know and should.  Identify someone who has the type of position you aspire to. Make sure this is a person who you actually admire and like.  Write down what they have which you don’t by way of skills, knowledge and behaviours. This list will serve as your proof that there is always something you can learn.

  1. Set yourself a target you know you can’t meet

Do you write to-do lists? Most successful people do. Now be honest! Do you include at the top of your list tasks you’ve already done or are close to completing? People with an over aroused achievement orientation often do.  By contrast, people with a strong growth mindset set challenges they are prepared to embrace for no other reason than that they will learn something in the process.

  1. Seek feedback on effort and welcome obstacles

The only thing we truly have control over is effort; anything else is down to circumstances and we certainly can’t control all of these.  Seeking feedback on effort will help you focus your energy towards progressively more complex tasks – and obstacles will become the fuel to your effort.  They are opportunities to learn rather than occasions to fail.

  1. Embrace criticisms

When people give you positive feedback, you should never overlook this – take what they have told you about what you have done well, integrate this into your daily routines and do more of it.  But the growth mindset is also about getting better and getting better means seeing criticism as a learning opportunity.  Make it easy for people to offer you criticism. Seek it and be grateful for it.

  1. Learn from others

Too many leaders, even those who are the most seasoned, feel threatened when meeting other successful people. However, the success of others should be a source of inspiration, not a source of fear.  So, find the most successful people you can – those whose success you may even find intimidating.  Observe and learn!

Building a growth mindset may be counter-intuitive for talented people who have learned to use others’ approval as a source for their own energy.  It lies at the heart of effective learning and progression. Practice can make you a perfect loser if you practise the wrong things. Start with changing your mindset and your practice won’t be in vain.

Article by Emmanuel Gobillot and Katherine Thomas

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