How to Develop a Growth Mindset

Oct 05, 2022

I recently had a student in class ask a really good question about mindset. The question was, "If a growth mindset was so desirable among leaders, why were so many law enforcement officers promoted with a fixed mindset?" The responses were all good. One person in particular referenced a book called "Charismatic Leadership" and of course Carol Dweck’s book "Mindset". The dialogue we had in class showed that there are still many misconceptions and misinterpretations of the importance of mindset as you become a leader. You see, for me, mindset is one of my four pillars of leadership. In fact, it’s the first one that I discuss when introducing the topic to my Intentional Leadership students.

We’ve all had a bad mindset about things whether it be a job, a situation, a person, or a task at hand. We have all been there, for sure. Remember, most of us have a tendency toward fixed or growth, but that doesn’t make one bad over the other. That said, a fixed mindset is one that will cause you significant difficulties as a leader. Can you change? Absolutely! Is it hard? You bet it is! I had to teach myself through many years of practice and trial and error of what worked for me. You see, because of our biochemical makeup, we are predisposed to look for threats in our environment – it’s how we survived in prehistoric times. Because of this, it just comes natural to see the world as a series of problems to solve or threats to manage. This can lead to a very pessimistic view of the world and others.

Carol Dweck describes the fixed mindset as a creation of one’s environment during their formative years. If a child was told that they just weren’t good at a task, they were basically being given permission to give up. Over time, this creates a more fixed mindset of the glass is half empty. Children who grew up being told to try again from a different approach tended to see the world through more of a glass half full scenario and developed a more growth mindset that anything is possible if I tell myself I can. That said, many researchers have focused on how these patterns develop and how they can be changed. Just as with any 12-step program, admitting where you are is the first step.

Scott Shickler & Jeff Waller teamed up some years ago to develop a curriculum for elementary students based on groundbreaking research that discovered seven mindsets. Since writing the book, the two have authored countless curriculums for K-12 schools that help students identify their mindset patterns and teach them how to adjust that thinking. That is fascinating stuff and I encourage everyone to read their book "The 7 Mindsets to Live Your Ultimate Life", but for those of us that are in the workplace and in the real world, how do we begin to adjust our mindset? Many of us may have been shaped by our childhood role models be it parents, grandparents, teachers, or coaches, but we also can be influenced by the work environment in which we find ourselves in. Law enforcement can definitely tend to have (by the nature of the work we do) a more fixed mindset. Breaking free of a completely fixed mindset can be difficult, but I know from personal experience that it is not impossible. So how can someone identify and adjust their mindset to achieve greater success as a person and a leader? Well, let’s look at the steps I believe will start that process for you:


  1. Recognize and admit where your mindset falls. Do you have a more fixed mindset in all things or just work-related functions? Most are a combination of the two. You will find that there are certain situations where you tend to lean more towards one or the other and that’s okay. Recognizing where your mindset is will help you assess which is best for the given situation. You see, I don’t want you to see one or the other as bad or good. Truly there are positives from each type. What you want to see is where you tend to fall and how you can adjust it for maximum effectiveness as a leader.
  2. Journal your leadership experiences. Write down where your mindset is at the time of the decisions you are making or the mentoring you are doing with an employee. By disciplining yourself to do this on a regular basis, you will be able to go back and see patterns in how you handled situations. As you analyze those patterns, you will begin to see what was effective and what could have gone better. Journaling your leadership is so important – it’s why we give every student of ours a journal, so they are encouraged from the moment they take our class to begin that practice of journaling your leadership. I’ve done it for most of my adult life now and it’s truly remarkable to go back through those journals and see where I was at one point of my career versus another.
  3. If you are a more fixed mindset person, own it. Decide how you can practice adjusting your mindset to be more growth oriented. Start with one aspect of your leadership. Look around at other leaders both within and outside of your organization and observe how they handle certain situations. What do you admire? What do you want to emulate? Take note of those characteristics and write down your goals for practicing that new approach.
  4. Practice what you want to change. Just as you will never achieve a toned body without doing the workouts and weights, you will you not achieve a growth mindset if you don’t practice. Now one of the more difficult things is that old patterns of behavior do die hard. It’s tough to change. One technique that worked for me was to “reframe” the situation. This was a constant challenge that over time actually became kind of fun to do. Take any workplace situation and however you would normally react, stop and reframe it from the other person’s perspective. In doing so, you are not only making your mind think differently, but you are actually practicing empathy by literally putting yourself in another’s shoes.
  5. Don’t give up. Just as the Fleetwood Mac song says, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow,” be deliberate and intentional in your goals to improve. I talk a lot about finding your GPS moment for leadership growth and development when I teach. Just as you don’t get in a car without knowing point A and point B, you can’t get to leadership point B without knowing where your leadership point A is. Find your starting point. Realize that it isn’t all bad. By acknowledging where you are, you can begin the process of getting where you want to be.


Practice these 5 steps and make them part of your routine as a leader or even a parent. You will find yourself getting better steadily and surely. Will you be perfect all the time? Heck no. But by acknowledging where you are, you are taking the first step toward getting to where you want to be.

Have a great rest of the week!

- Dean

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