Mindset: The secret sauce

Tuesday October 26 2021
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By Business Daily Africa

What is the one critical factor that makes someone a good manager? Undoubtedly capable managers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, with a full range of personality types. At one end of the spectrum, some can be loud, brash, bordering on aggressive, others quiet and thoughtful, painfully shy, yet equally effective.

Is there is one differentiating attribute between those who can deliver, and the ‘wheeler dealer’ types who talk at a good game, but really can’t produce the operational and financial results?

Across all the various disciplines of management, a subject recently carved out to stand on its own and studied for just over a century, the wise vote would choose the critical success factor — the mindset. But what do we mean when we say mindset?

Mindsets are a manager’s mental lenses that determine what information they take in and use, to make sense of and navigate the situations they encounter. Simply, mindsets, are the eyeglasses through which managers see their world — and drive what they do, and why. For instance, a mindset would explain why two managers might encounter the same situation, but respond to it very differently.

Growth and fixed mindsets

There is a full range of mindsets, but for the moment let’s look at just two — growth and fixed mindsets. “A growth mindset is a belief that people, including oneself, can change their talents, abilities, and intelligence. Conversely, those with a fixed mindset do not believe that people can change their talents abilities and intelligence.


Decades of research have found that those with a growth mindset are more mentally primed to approach and take on challenges, take advantage of feedback, adopt the most effective problem-solving strategies, provide developmental feedback to subordinates, and be effortful and persistent in seeking to accomplish goals” write Ryan Gottfredson and Chris Reina.

So how do spot a manager with a growth mindset? Chances are they arrived at the top of the corporate ladder, from the bottom up, partly as a result of their enthusiasm and attitude.

While they may enjoy the money and recognition, those with a growth mindset, are not desperately seeking it as validation of their worth or to prove themselves “superior” to others. And, are usually surrounded by those who challenge them to grow.

Based on their growth mindset, they create a culture of collaboration, aiming to get the best out of their staff, recognising untapped potential. Most importantly, they know themselves, with an accurate understanding of self-awareness and their abilities.

In contrast, a fixed mindset manager hungers to be at the top of the ladder and is ready to take shortcuts to get there. They tend to throw their weight around to get their work done, often flaunting authority. And tend to be surrounded by those who boost their fragile self-confidence.

The risk is that they may create a culture of fear within their teams, and tend to focus on lower long-term performance, with an inaccurate estimation of their abilities, lacking is a sense of self-awareness.

To be fair, this is not a binary, either-or, black-and-white situation. At various points in time, all of us may display embarrassing traits that we don’t like. Key point is to have the awareness of who we are, and how one shows up day to day in the workplace. Ideally, to have that ability to genuinely reflect deeply, and be on a journey to be open to the possibility of growth.

Mechanism of the mind

Shifting from the idea of mindsets, let’s look at our minds.

Ernst Poppel, a German psychologist and neuroscientist research suggests that our minds are only present for about three seconds at a time. With our brains constantly thinking forward and backward, filling in ideas about the present, based on experience, all the time anticipating what is to come.

Lisa Feldman Barret puts it this way: “Your brain is not reacting to events in the world, it’s predicting…constantly guessing what’s going to happen next.”

If you are a doubter, close your eyes for a moment, just be still, and watch the thoughts flit through your mind. Our thought process is a bit like a monkey, constantly swinging from one branch to another, jumping from one thought to another.

Jay Shetty in his book, Think Like a Monk writes: “Our thoughts are like clouds passing by. The self like the sun is always there. We are not our minds. Visualising the mind as a separate entity helps us work on our relationship with it — we can think of the interaction, as making a friend or negotiating peace with an enemy.”

Like a fish in a fishbowl

The idea that we are not our minds may seem crazy, after all, doesn’t consciousness rest in our grey matter? However, counterintuitive it may seem, creating the sense that ‘we are not our minds’ is a helpful distinction to make. Think of it, as your mind is like a fish in a fishbowl, and you are outside observing, seeing the bigger picture.

Helps to get feedback from those you work with on how they honestly see you. Doing a personality profile like, for instance, Myers Briggs or similar tools administered by a qualified psychologist is very helpful in shedding light on aspects of your personality, and how this shows up in mindsets.

In doing these personality profiles, all based on the work of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, don’t worry, there is no way you can come out looking bad, there are no right and wrong responses.

On this ‘being a better manager’ journey it’s all about self-awareness, letting go of illusions. “The most important conversations you’ll ever have, are the ones you’ll have with yourself,” noted David Goggins.