A Mindset to Lead

A Guest Post from Kyle Trottier

Leading others is a challenging yet rewarding aspect of our profession. Some leaders have an ability to inspire individuals and create organizations that train hard to accomplish many great measures. How does this happen? What can one emulate from these leaders and inculcate into our own organizations? The answer lies within the mindset of the leader. In her 2009 book Mindset The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dweck, a PhD Psychologist at Colombia University, describes two types of people – those with a “Fixed” mindset and those with a “Growth” mindset. She applies twenty years of research at Colombia University to demonstrate how the view you adopt for your life profoundly impacts how we approach and solve problems. Leaders must provide purpose, direction, and motivation; a growth mindset enables you to create a positive environment, prepare yourself, and develop others to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Marcus Fichtl

Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization. (ADRP 6-22, Leadership, 1-1)

Dr. Dweck describes those with a fixed mindset as those who believe their personal qualities are carved in stone. You either have talent or you do not. You are either smart or you are not. Those with a fixed mindset who believe they possess talent or intellect are afraid to take any action that would expose their deficiencies. They would rather keep doing the same thing over and over and be known as great in that one skillset than expand their knowledge and try anything new. For these people, they must be perfect immediately. They believe expending effort to accomplish a goal displays a lack of talent or ability. These individuals see failure as a direct measure of their value as a human being, are quick to blame others, and will quit in the face of adversity. For example, an infantry officer with a fixed mindset may emotionally/psychologically fall apart if told they are not cutting it. This would seem to indicate that the individual’s self-worth/image/cultural values are inextricably linked to his identity as an infantry officer. Conversely, the same individual may deal well repeatedly failing on home improvement projects simply because his identify is not wrapped up in his project.

Dr. Dweck describes those with a growth mindset as those who believe traits can be developed, skills can be learned, and people can change. These individuals are willing to try new things. They are willing to take risks because they do not see failure as a bad thing, but as part of the process of growth. It is through effort that one succeeds; they view obstacles as the path to their eventual success, those things that will make them better as a result of trial and tribulation. These people believe in the power of persistence, to consistently apply effort until the task is accomplished. For the growth mindset, there is a belief that the two things one can control are their attitude and effort, to worry about anything else is a waste of time. One example of a growth minded leader who failed five times before achieving a decisive tactical victory was General Grant during the Vicksburg Campaign. For nearly six months Grant conducted a series of land and riverine based assaults into the Confederate defenses, each failing, until he and his other growth minded commanders like William Tecumseh Sherman learned from these experiences and developed the ability to win a decisive victory.

Leaders must know themselves, conduct self-development, and develop others. One observation of Dr. Dweck was that the fixed minded leader often believed they were better than others and treated them that way. These are the leaders who belittle and degrade in order to re-affirm their standing as a subject matter expert. They see other competent people as adversaries or competition and can be correlated with toxic leadership. The growth minded leader, on the other hand, loves learning, they love the process of getting better each day. These leaders embrace other competent people and strive to share with and learn from them. This creates a positive environment where each individual gets better and the organization as a whole improves. In order to lead organizations in-line with the principles of mission command we must be growth minded leaders and we must develop others to be as well.

ADRP 6-22 defines the attributes the Army desires all leaders to possess as character, presence, and intellect. These attributes enable competent leaders who can lead, develop, and achieve results. Both the fixed and growth minded leader will demonstrate proficiency in the attributes in a similar manner. But these individuals will lead and develop in opposing manners. The fixed minded leader will typically rely on fear, intimidation, and coercion to lead whereas the growth minded leader will build trust, create shared understanding, and accept prudent risk of subordinates based off of the commander’s intent. This creates a positive environment. ADRP 6-22 defines a positive environment as a place where leaders:

• Use effective assessment and training methods.
• Encourages leaders and their subordinates to reach their full potential.
• Motivates others to develop themselves.
• Expresses the value of interacting with others and seeking counsel.
• Stimulates innovative and critical thinking in others.
• Seeks new approaches to problems.
• Communicates the difference between professional standards and a zero-defects mentality.
• Emphasizes learning from one’s mistakes.

Army leaders must possess a growth mindset to create a positive environment. It starts with self-preparation then developing others. One school district in Colorado continues to experiment with Dr. Dweck’s concepts and has achieved compelling results. Throughout 2016-2017 school year the Jefferson County Public Schools in Denver Colorado used Dr. Dweck’s publications to transform teachers and students. At Bear Creek K-8, two staff members were certified through a series of “mindset workshops” then these subject matter experts trained the faculty. They helped teachers realize their own individual tendencies and adjust their method of instruction to be more growth oriented. This then allowed them to not only instruct the curriculum more effectively, but also teach a growth mindset to their students.

The US Army, like the public-school system, invests heavily in the members of American society, which forms the cornerstone of the Army team. Both require leaders to build positive environments and develop others, which is possible only after each leader prepares themselves. Army leaders must invest time in self-study and self-development to succeed in the challenges of decisive action as a Soldier and diplomat where the costs of being unprepared can be unforgiving. Leaders must continually develop their character, presence, and intellect to more effectively lead, develop, and achieve. This requires a growth mindset. Each leader must possess an internal drive to be better today than they were yesterday. He/she must continually expand their knowledge and develop self-awareness to understand clearly their capabilities and limitations. It is through a growth mindset that the Army can develop agile and adaptive leaders with critical and creative thinking abilities. It is these leaders and organizations who will be best equipped to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative and win in a complex world.

Those leaders who inspire individuals and create organizations that train hard and accomplish many great measures don’t have a secret formula for success. They simply have a growth mindset. They continually seek to be better today than they were the previous in every part of their personal and professional life. They continually develop their character, presence, and intellect in order to lead, develop, and achieve. This process pushes other members of the organization to grow, learn, and become better on a daily basis, all of which creates learning organizations. Those with a fixed mindset are fragile under pressure and likely to shirk responsibility. They don’t grow from failure, but quit. They don’t counsel, coach, or mentor they use fear, coercion, intimidation. These are the negative leaders within our formations. These are the nay sayers who refuse to try new methods to improve the organization or accomplish a task. These are the leaders who will fail to adapt to the unforgiving adversaries our Army faces. As leaders we are trusted with our Nation’s most precious resource, we must uphold the bond of trust the American people have with its Army. Our Nation, Army, and Soldiers demand growth minded leaders and units who will persevere in the face of adversity.
We are leaders that are taught to lead by example. If we, as leaders, emphasize the importance of learning and learn daily then our Soldiers will begin to do the same. If we, as leaders like General Grant, fail and allow others to see us fail and see us learn through our failures then they too will take the risk in training. That risk may be an incredible success or it could lead to a failure where a necessary lesson is learned that will make the difference in battle. Our NCOs and junior officers may have a great idea, but it may never surface unless we cultivate an environment that idea sharing is good, that all ideas have something of value to contribute, that we, as leaders, can learn from those around us. We don’t need to know it all. We need to know the value of growth.

Major Kyle Trottier is an armor officer, a graduate from Texas Christian University and holds a master’s degree in Organizational and Business Security Management from Webster University and a Masters in Military Art and Science (Theater Operations) from the School of Advance Military Studies (SAMS). MAJ Trottier is currently serving as the 3ID FUOPS Chief.

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2 thoughts on “A Mindset to Lead

  1. “The value of growth” and the growth mindset is important in every area of our lives. An incredible article that hits upon something that should be the cornerstone of our existence.

  2. “The value of growth” and a growth mindset are vital to every areas of our lives. Thank you for this article. Growth mindset should become the cornerstone of our lives.