Growing Growth Mindsets

Any person that cares about coaching has to be familiar with the concept of a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset. When I first heard about it years ago, I had a genuine eureka moment—it instantly made me know myself better and realize how different issues in my past related to my mindset. If you’re working on coaching others or want your own coaching to be effective, you have to incorporate viewing things with a growth mindset.

Having dubbed my own mission as tripling impact-per-engineer with my clients, I have grown to view the growth mindset as one of the best offensive weapons an executive can wield. In fact, I’m not referring to possessing it, but the ability to instill it within an organization. My go-to tactics for starting such a transformation in your organization are the subject of this article.

Our Destination

First, I will attempt to paint a picture to help you visualize the wanted state that we will be pushing for. The best teams I’ve worked with seem to gain more and more momentum as time passes. They continuously improve. That’s only possible if they view hardships as challenges. Otherwise, any setback causes discouragement. For example, these are the teams that have made leaps and bounds of experiments and tweaks to their processes during this pandemic-ridden year to emerge stronger than ever (some of these lessons are covered in my upcoming free webinar).

This creates a compounding effect. A team that improves by one percent a week will double its potency every five quarters or so. I think most executives would “settle” for a team that doubles potency every couple of years or so, but this is one of those areas where you must project your executive mindset.

Eventually, such organizations are often those where managers are measured by the growth their team is having, not the actual delivery it is doing. That is, managers are responsible for the acceleration of the team’s velocity, not the velocity itself (or, more realistically, not solely it). This helps prevent the formation of Peter Pans.

Start at the Start

It might seem obvious, but I keep seeing this easy step skipped: Try and hire people with the right mindset. Half the battle is coaching people to view things from a growth mindset. If you can get those already aligned with this point of view, you will set your team up for success.

I’ve seen this be successfully done either as part of the interviews performed by engineer managers or as part of the HR portion of the hiring process. Even if you believe that your current team is lacking in this regard, a significant shift can be done within a few months in fast-growing companies.

Create a Growth Heartbeat

As mentioned above, managers should be measured by the growth they create in their teams. This isn’t lip service. It should direct how their day-to-day work looks like. In The Tech Executive Operating System, I call your management team a Feedback Skeleton. This is the core of the growth that will happen in the organization, and bolstering this skeleton with solid processes is instrumental to their success.

I always urge my clients to adopt growth objectives. Just as teams have objectives for quarters, so should individuals. Managers are responsible for helping their staff find a worthwhile personal goal for every quarter (or shorter iterations, like two months) and coach them in it. These can range from technical capabilities to soft skills like facilitating meetings or speaking publicly. This sort of attention to the growth and development of your team is not something many are used to, and it is precisely what can make the difference as organizations grow bigger.

If considering the amount of time and effort that this requires from your managers seems startling, it means that you are not directing them properly. The recommended time allocation for leaders in my book suggests about 25% of one’s time going into proactive coaching. Don’t settle for anything short of that. This coaching time is when your managers act as force multipliers in the organization and how they make others force multipliers as well.

Level Up Managers

You might have noticed that this puts the onus on your management team. Their skills of coaching and leading the team becomes a prerequisite for achieving a growing organization. However, it is a common occurrence at young startups to have managers who are not professionals yet and aren’t lead professionally. When your managers are not measured for growth, don’t know how to coach their team correctly, or fail at time management to make such an investment possible, they cannot be expected to implement these processes.

This is where you enter the picture, dear executives. If the product of your managers is their teams, your product is your leadership team. Set an example by coaching them yourself and providing them with the right tools. Lead with a growth mindset that helps the entire organization accept challenges gleefully. Having helped dozens of companies kickoff these transformations, I can promise you that virtually anything is possible if you equip yourself with the right mindset and tools.