As children, we think little of the fact that we have no prior experience or knowledge of something. We take for granted that the process to proficiency will not be smooth. We view any progress as a smashing success and pay little mind to the hiccups along the way.
Think of the toddler learning to walk. Picture, if you can, the excitement radiating from their face as they clumsily lumber themselves up onto their feet. Such a sense of accomplishment! And then, almost instantaneously, they lose their balance. I’ve yet to see a toddler who refuses to ask for help because they should be able to do it themselves; who judges themselves because a peer is progressing more quickly than them; or, who determines that, because it didn’t come easily to them, they should abandon the idea completely.
And yet, I see this over and over again with adults.
One of my favorite examples of this is that of the first-time supervisor. You’ve just been promoted from being an individual contributor to a manager of others. And somehow, you conflate the idea that elevation in your title should also be accompanied by the requisite elevation in your skills.
A beginner’s mindset would approach this new role by asking the question, “how do I…?” For example, how do I delegate effectively? As a supervisor, your role has shifted from getting things done to getting things done through others. Recognizing that this is new, and perhaps uncomfortable, territory, you might engage in a collaborative conversation with the person you’re trying to delegate to. You might explain that you’re learning how to delegate effectively and you’d welcome their input along the way. For example, what questions do they have; do they understand the deliverables and timeline; are these reasonable; what resources might they need; etc. You’ll also recognize that the first few times are likely going to be fairly bumpy — miscommunications, misunderstandings — and you’ll see those bumps as opportunities to refine your skill.
Whereas someone with a more fixed mindset would likely approach the role with the statement, “I should know how to…” And yet, what happens to the supervisor who “should know” how to delegate? They get frustrated that people don’t do it the way they would have done it. They get anxious at the perceived lack of control they have over the work. Or, perhaps, they revert to the age-old excuse, “it’s just faster and easier for me to do it myself than to teach someone else how to do it.” We’ve all heard the stories, or been guilty of doing this ourselves.
As a leader, your mindset affects not only you but those around you. If your team perceives that you have little tolerance for anything short of perfection or success, it’s likely that they’ll be reticent to take any risks or innovate. If what your team sees is that you are someone who never makes mistakes, who has all the answers, who plans the work and works the plan, then the message their taking in is that they need to be that way too, even though you may actually have a beginner’s mindset.
How will you embrace your beginner’s mindset? And how will you foster it in those around you?