Things grow. Babies learn to walk, plants grow flowers, puppies play fetch. Growth is everywhere and a natural part of life. That is, until we look inside our organizations. Do you find that your project management, PMO leadership, or organizational development skills are stagnant? Are you doing the same thing you’ve done for years, yet feel like you’re not getting anywhere? Do you sense that a little part of you dies every time you walk into your office doors?
If so, you may be suffering from what psychologists call a fixed mindset. This is the belief that you have a set of skills and abilities (such as intelligence, traits, and talent) that are fixed at birth, and nothing can be done to improve them. Examples of this are when people state, “I’m just not good at soccer,” or “I don’t have a musical bone in my body,” or “I don’t know how to manage people.”
The opposite of that is a growth mindset, which is the belief that ideas and capabilities are ever-changing. You feel that new skills can be learned if you apply yourself and that wisdom and intelligence grow with each new experience. Rather than say, “I’m not good at managing people,” a person with a growth mindset would say, “I’m not good at managing people… yet.”
Why is the mindset that we hold so important? Because a mindset is the set of beliefs that shape how you make sense of the world and yourself. It influences how you think, feel, and behave in any given situation. If you find yourself trapped in a fixed mindset, you are going to subject your world (teammates, employees, managers, leaders) to the fact that neither you nor they can grow. How debilitating that is for those around you.
It’s obvious that a growth mindset is better for a Project Manager, PMO or Organizational Leader. How can you cultivate that in your organization to better deliver projects? Below are six ideas for different roles.
What can a project manager do to cultivate a growth mindset?
- Don’t Be Afraid of Mistakes - There’s an expectation that project managers know everything. Team members look to them for guidance, direction, and reassurance that everything is going well on a project, and if it isn’t, the project manager will make the right decisions to get it back on track. This leaves little room to try something new and run the risk of it not working.
A project manager shouldn’t be so concerned with playing it safe that they avoid new processes, technologies, tools, or methodologies that will improve things in the long run. Does it have a chance of failing in the short-term, or resulting in a mistake? Sure. But explaining that to the team upfront paves a road for new experiences and introduces new and different ways of doing things.
- Add the Word “Yet” to Something You Can’t Do - We all have natural abilities that make certain things easier to do than others. For example, some people love getting lost in spreadsheets for hours looking for trends and patterns. Others cringe at the very idea of plugging a formula into a spreadsheet. But, it doesn’t mean that person can’t learn.
If something is an important part of your job and you don’t know how to do it, reframe it as, “I’m not good with spreadsheets… yet.” The addition of “yet” allows you to sign up for courses, watch tutorials, or ask the resident spreadsheet expert. This principle applies to whatever skill you currently do not have but need, in order to grow in your position.
Next, what can a PMO Leader do to cultivate a growth mindset?
- Stop Seeking Approval from Others - Early on in one’s career, approval is needed to do almost anything. Can I send this email? Should I set up this meeting? How does this report look? This approval-seeking process could become part of who we are, and we may find ourselves still looking for approval from others further along in our career, which could stunt growth.
If you are a PMO Leader, it means you have accumulated substantial experience over the years, so go ahead and call the shot. Make a decision when you know it’s the right thing to do. Allow yourself to move faster, grow in confidence and add success stories to your career portfolio.
- Ask for Constructive Feedback - Wait, didn’t we just say to not ask for approval? Constructive feedback is different from approval. Open the door to a trusted colleague for feedback on an idea you are contemplating, or an action that you just took. You are not looking for their approval; you are fleshing out an idea or asking what could be done better or differently next time.
That person could be your boss, peer, or potentially even someone on your team if you have the right relationship with them. Many have also found mentor relationships outside of their company, with those who have “been there, done that,” to be a great way to receive constructive feedback that nurtures growth.
Finally, what can an Organizational Leader do to develop a growth mindset?
- View Challenges as Opportunities - Let’s face it, being an organizational leader is fraught with challenges. You can choose to either hide under your desk and feel overwhelmed by all that is being put on your plate, or methodically work through challenges and turn them into opportunities.
This requires you get out of your comfort zone, think creatively, adopt a positive attitude during hard times, and provide clear and fresh guidance to those around you. Each of these actions will push you squarely into the realm of the growth mindset.
- Make a New Goal for Every Goal Achieved - You can’t rest on your laurels. As soon as you’ve knocked out a challenging problem as mentioned above, or achieved a quarterly or annual goal, immediately set your next stretch goal. Not just a regular or even expected objective, but one you have to work to achieve. Picture yourself reaching for a jar on top of a cabinet, where you have to stand on your toes, extend your arms as high as you can, and maybe even hop to get ahold of it. That’s the kind of goal you want to set.
Doing so will ensure that not only you are growing, but all those in your department are growing along with you.
There are dozens of ways to develop a growth mindset. Just look it up online. But, the six suggestions above are a good place to start. And, don’t limit yourself by role. Regardless of where you are in your Organization’s Project Management Journey, all of these suggestions can be applied to help you deliver projects better.