It’s the start of the New Year and, as usual, there are an abundance of blogs and articles sharing tips on how you can be at your best in the year ahead; how to remain resilient, the most powerful life lessons you can adopt, how to thrive and survive.
I’ve enjoyed reading and reposting many of them myself on social media. And in doing so, I’ve spotted a theme that speaks to me: when you boil them down, the essence of them all is very simple, it’s about choosing a growth mindset as you approach your own life.
One of my predictions for 2017 – and it’s a safe bet - is that with the global and political landscape constantly shifting, we are all likely to be met with change, whether it’s at work or at home, a change to what you are doing, how you are doing it or who you are doing it with. We’ll all face disruption to the status quo, so we’ll need to adapt in order to thrive and survive. This isn’t new, or even news, however change can still take us by surprise and we can find ourselves feeling vulnerable, threatened or stuck, if we cling to a fixed mindset.
Most of the individuals and teams I have worked with in the last few years have undergone significant change. Some have adapted to reinvent themselves, thriving and becoming pioneers in their industry and role models within their organisations. On the other hand, some previously very successful individuals have stepped down or fallen down, unable to adapt and continue to perform, unable to survive. The difference between those who thrive and survive and those that don’t is whether they recognise when they are in a fixed mindset, and their ability to engage their growth mindset.
“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not
going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people
to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.” - Carol Dweck, leading Professor of Psychology.
When you hold a growth mindset, you believe that everyone has the capacity to keep learning, and to develop new resources, strategies and skill; you see failures simply as part of the learning process, using feedback to learn. Setbacks are seen as short-term challenges and change is embraced. It all sounds so simple doesn’t it?
What about the reality? If I reflect on last year, 2016 was a year of change for me. At home, I moved to a new country, began learning a new language, got married, and adopted a cat, some chickens and a puppy. And at work change came just as quickly, with new client challenges that needed new solutions, and my team changed then changed again. In reflection it was a very challenging year, yet it was one of the happiest and most easy-flowing years I’ve ever had.
Well, the truth is that I wasn’t able to hold a growth mindset about everything all of the time - I'm only human, after all! There were times when I held my head in despair about the heavy workload and time limitations. Negative thoughts sometimes crept in, and in certain moments I know that my growth mindset was lacking. However, I also knew that, ultimately, it was me who held the key: I could recognise when I was stuck in a fixed mindset and that embracing a growth mindset would ultimately unlock success for me.
In 2017, I choose to engage my growth mindset and inspire a growth mindset in others. This can be your fresh start: by embracing a growth mindset, what will you be able to achieve this year?
Do you sometimes find that life’s smallest interactions can end up having a unexpected impact on you? I do. Let me explain.
Today I stopped on the way to the office to grab a cup of tea. The coffee shop was busy, with a long queue, and the staff were going out of their way to move it along pretty quickly. All good – until one very impatient customer tried to skip ahead a few places because he was ‘late for an important meeting’.
Not up for an early-morning confrontation, most of us averted our eyes, except for the young girl behind the counter. She very sweetly, but firmly, explained that she’d get to him as soon as she could, but everyone in the queue was in a hurry to get somewhere, and he’d have to wait his turn. The man huffed and puffed, but she stood her ground, and he retreated to the back of the queue. And I thought – grace under fire. That’s my lesson for today.
Because I often find that, even in life’s seemingly unimportant moments, there are things I can learn. Working in the people development business gives you unending opportunities to think quite deeply about yourself, your character, how you impact on others, and what unfulfilled potential there is inside all of us. It might sound exhausting, but working in this business has made my life quite an adventure. I know I’m a long way from being the finished article, and I don’t ever want to feel that I’ve done all the growing I can do. It’s what helps me evolve, and keeps me interested and curious about the world.
So I try to stay open to what other people bring to the workplace. The person who can free-flow and explore wide-ranging ideas without restraint; the person who says very little but when they do it is wise, considered and full of impact; the manager who has the courage not to force their own agenda but to ask, what is the most important thing we can talk about today; and the team-member who knows how and when to ask for help without fear of appearing vulnerable or inadequate.
The point here isn’t the examples I’ve given – it’s to encourage you to keep yourself open to who’s around you, how they approach life, and learn a little something from them. Because if you’re not growing, learning and stretching yourself, then you’re not giving yourself the chance to develop into the best version of yourself.
So take a look around today – at your outspoken colleague, at the person in the office whose style is opposite to yours (but you can see that it’s effective), at the friend you meet for lunch. What qualities are they showing you that you can try on, and learn how to make your own?
If I look back to 2016 – which feels like a lifetime ago now – things were pretty settled. I was happily living in a house I’d been in for many years. I was part of the Insights Exec Team, which had been made up of (mostly) the same faces for a long time. My manager and I had worked with each other for almost two decades and had shared many highs, lows and adventures together as we guided our business through a whole raft of both planned, and unforeseen, events.
Sure, being a senior leader in an ambitious company always had its tightrope moments, where we felt so very keenly the consequences of every big decision we had to make. But even that felt comfortable and familiar; I had become used to, and indeed thrived on, the dynamic I had with my Executive colleagues, our individual and collective strengths and weaknesses, and our easy way of working together. I took in my stride the natural rhythm we had found and the sense of safety and belonging this brought.
And now we find ourselves in 2018, just beginning to emerge from a period of change I thought I was prepared for. Our Exec Team has undergone more than evolution – it’s a revolution! New faces have joined us in leading the company, bringing their decades of expertise and fresh thinking with them, and I have a new manager who has brought enlivening change directly to my door. And as a company we’ve reached the end of one strategic period, and we’re now kicking off into the next one with bigger, bolder plans than ever before. Oh and I moved out of my house after 19 years and moved to a new house in a new town with my lovely fella in tow.
I thought I was ready for all of it. After all, I’m no newbie to Insights, nor a graduate fresh from my leaver’s ball, and I’ve experienced more change than I can even remember during my time here. In my mind, I almost believed that dealing with change was for other people – that my role was to lead the change agenda and then help others transition through it as smoothly and as quickly as possible.
Well, that turned out to be – not to put too fine a point on it – naïve and maybe even rather arrogant. At times, I found myself really struggling with the amount and speed of the personal and professional change. At work, I found myself navigating a number of new relationships, getting used to an entirely different dynamic in our team meetings, trying hard to find my place and my voice within this new structure, and realising that I’d underestimated just exactly how vulnerable change can make us all feel. Managing a house move at the same time brought additional pressure.
But these changes, while tricky to handle and unexpectedly humbling, taught me valuable lessons. Because what became very clear to me as I navigated every adjustment, from trying to get wifi installed and set up a home office in my new house, to the strong and authentic relationship my manager and I are building together, is that change is nothing if it’s not an opportunity.
Being settled and familiar with so many aspects of your life can be lovely and calming, like sinking into a warm bath - but it’s a shot of cold water that forces you to leap into action. Thanks to the last year of transformation, I’ve found myself re-energised and ambitious for myself and my people in new ways. Perhaps most of all I’ve been reminded how it feels for others who are transitioning through change and that, I hope, will make me a far better leader as we lean into the big work ahead.