Developing other people’s capacity

24.11.2016 |

Episode #7 of the course How to be a more mindful leader by The Plato Project


When we lead and want to get the best from our teams, one of the key determinants of success is how we are developing our people. We need to help them become the very best that they can be, but also keep in mind that they are human—and therefore allow for the process of learning.

A good starting point when developing people is to consider mindset. Carol Dweck writes of the “fixed mindset,” which she contrasts with the “growth mindset.” The fixed mindset believes that attributes and skills are given, and that success comes from demonstrating those skills. The growth mindset believe that attributes and skills can be learned, and that success comes through learning.

Fostering a growth mindset in a team is a good way to overcome the perception that people are only useful for particular skills or attributes. It is encouraging, gives people the space to learn, and helps create opportunities for people to be comfortable in new situations. It builds a team that is primed for learning.

How, then, is a growth mindset to be developed in an organization with many moving parts? This is the subject of a great deal of management literature; however, one powerful approach is leveraging “strengths-based leadership.”

Strengths-based leadership works on the principle that people will achieve their potential by neutralizing weaknesses and developing strengths further, rather than trying to turn weaknesses into strengths. It plays with the idea that people develop best if they develop from a core of strength—that people are more likely to explore opportunities for growth if they have some strength in the field.

Developing people based on their strengths has consequences for teams too. A team is acknowledged as being made up of a whole lot of different types of people, each with their own strengths. The team then needs to operate in a way that makes diversity of opinions a powerful enabler, stays focused on the organization’s needs, and welcomes further diversity.

Teams are also better managed, and people led, by understanding how human nature shapes our choices. People have evolved because of the competing drives of Acquiring vs. Bonding and Learning vs. Defending. These drives do not naturally balance themselves and can create their own pathologies. For instance, the “dog eat dog” organization is an extreme of the acquiring drive, whereas “groupthink” is an extreme of the bonding drive.

At their pathological extremes, the human drives are destructive. Kept in balance, they create a healthy dynamism. A good manager and leader can recognize the drives in play and create systems and structures to encourage balance across the drives. This is another take on the creative tension implicit in strengths-based leadership.

The ultimate goal for a mindful leader is to understand the individuals in a team, develop them based on their strengths, and then skillfully weave together the team into a cohesive whole. That cohesive whole will not be free of conflict, as it allows for people’s differences; however, conflict will be resolved in an emotionally intelligent way—in a way that advances the cause of the organization. This allows people to become better versions of themselves.

A mindful leader seeks to create the conditions for a growth mindset in everything that the organization does.

“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” — Daniel Goleman


Recommended book

“Mindset” by Carol Dweck


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