How Can Leaders Develop Their Teams Growth Mindset?

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One of the roles of a leader is to “create more leaders, not more followers”.

On so many occasions, I witness leaders within organisations “telling” their staff what to do and how to do it, rather than empowering staff to make their own choices, experience their own mistakes (and learn from them) and take accountability and responsibility. Instead they are often led by the nose so they are never able to make an independent decision with confidence.

What I also regularly observe is that when leaders provide feedback and praise, what they often do is reward “ability” rather than reward “effort”. But what does this do to the mindset of their staff?

I was reading Carol Dweck’s famous book “Mindset” again last night and one of the experiments she conducted and explains in her book resonated with me. She posed the question, “If people have such potential to achieve, how can they gain faith in their potential?”

The issue is that when we praise ability in order to convey that they “have what it takes”, we keep people focused on a fixed mindset. It’s recognised that people with a fixed mindset already focus too much on their ability: The issue posed is whether this kind of praise actually encourages people. To find out, Dweck conducted a study.

Dweck took hundreds of students and gave each student a set of 10 fairly difficult problems from a nonverbal IQ test.

When finished – the students were praised.

The first group were told– “Wow, you must be really smart at this”

The second group were told – “”Wow, You must have worked really hard” (they were not made to believe they had a special gift, they were praised for doing what it takes to succeed).

Both groups were exactly equal to begin with. However right after the praise, they began to differ.

The ability praise pushed students right into the fixed mindset. In fact, when they were given a challenging new task to perform which they could learn from – they rejected the opportunity. They didn’t want to do anything which could expose their flaws and call their talent into question.

In contrast, when students were praised for effort, 90% wanted the challenging new task that they could learn from.

Next, the students were given some hard new problems, which they did not do so well on. The ability students now thought they were not that smart after all. If success had meant they were intelligent, then less than success meant they were deficient.

But – the effort students simply thought that difficult meant they had to “apply more effort”. They didn’t see it as a failure, and they didn’t think it reflected on their intellect.

Now what about their enjoyment when completing the problems? After the initial success, everyone loved the problems. But after the more difficult problems, the ability students said it wasn’t fun anymore. However… the effort students still loved the problems and many of them in fact said the harder problems were the most fun.

Dweck then looked at the student’s performance. After the experience with difficult tasks, the performance of the ability-praised students plummeted, even after they were given more of the easier problems. They had lost faith in their ability. However the effort students showed better and better performance. They basically used the hard problems to sharpen their skills, so when they returned to the easier ones, they were way ahead.

Since this was an IQ test, Dweck actually concludes that you might say praising ability lowered the student’s IQs and that praising their effort raised them.

Given these insights, how could you utilise this knowledge as a leader with your staff?

Want to know more about praising effort so as to develop a growth mindset and mental toughness in your team. Send me an email at to enquire about building your team’s potential.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Wellbeing Strategist, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner. Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing. You can find her at or