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Trust fuels the growth mindset at work

Trust has always been the currency of good relationships

Would you describe yourself as trusting? Do you give your inherent trust to people when you first meet them, or wait for the person to become trustworthy before you will trust him? I know of a CEO who is deeply distrustful of his senior managers. While he exhorts niceties like "family" and "team" and "potential", in actual fact, he operates out of distrust. He is always testing his managers, and looking for ways to prove to himself that they are untrustworthy. This then allows him to micromanage his managers to death, ushering them out the door very quickly. It is no surprise that all his high-potential senior managers leave within a short period of time. Worse still, he keeps his non-performing people because they are like birds of a feather, and he trusts them. What do you think will happen to this company over time?

Distrust - the symptom of the fixed mindset

While my opening story is true, you will probably have one person in mind as you read it, and chances are that person is not the one whom I'm speaking about. The fact of the matter is, there are many people like this and so my story can be your story, your friend's story, or the story of a myriad of people in many parts of the world. The story is so common because this is endemic of the fixed mindset. What makes the fixed mindset so untrusting?

(1) The need to know it all, to be in control, and to be the focal point

Because the person sits on a position of authority, he sees himself as knowing more than the rest. He needs to be in control, and he needs to drive the knowledge around him. So when some high-potential hire comes in and demonstrates greater knowledge or greater capability, or better leadership, he becomes insecure, and he is driven to show who's boss. He adopts an irrational need to show he is more competent, and jumps in to usurp the hi-po's authority; yet pinning blame on him. He very quickly disempowers the manager, and instead of helping him succeed, the fixed mindset CEO kills all initiative! Talk about cutting off the nose to spite the face!

(2) Insecurity

All these stem from his feeling of insecurity. The fixed mindset person is risk averse, but the aversion may not be so apparent. While he is able to take business risks - those that have been carefully articulated by layers upon layers of spreadsheets - he is not open to risk of being wrong, of failure, or in any way that will show to the world that he is not "top dog". This insecurity can come to a head when he vilifies an external enemy, pinning all blame on people who initially were his partners, simply because he cannot be wrong! (These former partners are typically the wronged party, not the other way around.)

(3) Irrelevance

That the fixed mindset is not a learning mindset means that the person has basically stopped learning and growing for quite some time. He is cocooned in his own "secure" world, and from this ivory tower, takes pot shots at those whom he deems as the "enemy". Yet this enemy is very loosely defined; it is one who does not go along with what he says, does not agree with some of his methods, and who may have a totally different point of view from him. So this can easily be someone from within the organisation, as it can from outside. And he tries all ways to discredit them.

Trust requires vulnerability

Trust has always been the currency of relationships. If an organisation is to retain talent and good people, the people at the top must trust that the talent will do whatever is in that person's means to make the organisation flourish. Rather than being a stumbling block, and setting up artificial barriers, there is a need to let the talent take the reins and move the organisation in a way that allows it to learn, to test, and to grow. There is a need to take the risk of being wrong, because it is only in learning what does not work, shall we be able to learn what does. They have to be vulnerable in placing the organisation's future in the hands of the talent.

The culture, therefore, must be one of mutual support and trust. A learning organisation, as articulated by Peter Senge, is one that allows its people to align to a common vision, and helps each person gain mastery over his domain. That means the organisation MUST trust that each employee is pulling his/her own weight to making the situation better, to learning something new, to growing the business. This is the growth mindset at work in organisations.

And it is fuelled by trust.


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