Purpose at Work: What it is, Why it Matters and How to Cultivate it

Purpose at Work: What it is, Why it Matters and How to Cultivate it

“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

This past week I interviewed a top leader in retail whose company is on the cusp of a revolutionary transformation. “What,” I asked him, “will be the magic potion to this transformation really taking hold?” He didn’t miss a beat when his words tumbled out, “The energy of our people. Our people need to re-find that fire in their bellies that got lost somewhere along the way. Without that energy, this transformation we are planning will never fly.”

What a smart man!

Indeed, no transformation – or long-term strategy or company culture or anything involving humans – can be successful without that initiative having meaning for the people who are involved. And this doesn’t mean telling our people why this should matter to them: it means finding out what matters to them and inviting them to co-create the common purpose together.

Over the years I’ve written about meaning and purpose in the workplace many times, and since then these topics have seemingly only grown in importance.

There are several reasons for this. For one, the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent rise of remote work arrangements resulted in a fundamental shift in how we work, which in turn has left people feeling socially isolated and lonely. Additionally, the years of disruption brought on by the pandemic, along with several other social, political, and economic shakeups, have caused people to re-evaluate what they want from work, with many seeking assurances that what we do has some greater value. This is reflected in a number of recent employee trends: according to a recent report from Gartner, 82% of employees say it’s important for their organization to see them as a person, not just an employee, though only 45% of employees believe their organization sees them this way.

This begs the question though: what does it mean to find purpose at work, and how can employers help their team find it?

Understanding Purpose at Work

“An extraordinary business starts with extraordinary people.
Extraordinary people start with purpose.”
– Jesper Lowgren

Put simply, purpose in work is the intrinsic sense of fulfillment that employees gain from doing work that’s meaningful to them. Most people spend the majority of their waking hours working, so naturally, many of us want to believe that what they do during those hours has some value beyond earning a paycheck. This sense of value can take various forms: some people just want to know that their work contributes to the overall success of their organization, while others want to believe that what they do has a positive impact on the world. Regardless, finding that unique sense of purpose can be a source of empowerment, motivating people to bring their best selves to their workplace.

This is why we must as leaders take a stand and help our people cultivate a stronger sense of meaning at work. Not only is it the human and right thing to do and therefore the only reason I personally would need, but it’s also essential to bottom-line results. When a team member can find meaning in their daily work tasks, they are more likely to approach those tasks with their full attention and a firm understanding of their organization’s goals. A strong sense of purpose also results in a greater sense of job satisfaction, which builds loyalty and incentivizes employees to work longer hours and take fewer sick days. Team alignment is another positive effect, as when a team member feels a sense of meaning in their work, they are more likely to support their colleagues and help them feel the same.  Finally, with all of these purpose-filled individuals and teams running around, the world becomes a safer place to be – if only in that microcosm.

Purpose at work is therefore a win-win-win-win-win scenario: the individual leaders, teams, the organization, and society at large all benefit.

Cultivating Purpose in the Workplace

“Never has there been a more exciting time for all of us to explore
this next great frontier where the boundaries between work and higher purpose
are merging into one, where doing good really is good for business.”
– Richard Branson

Of course, cultivating a strong sense of purpose can be challenging, as meaning-making is a complex and collaborative process. Purpose is a personal matter, and workers can take steps to find greater meaning in their roles, from practicing mindfulness to investing more in their relationships. Yet it is ultimately up to company leaders to role model and create an environment where their people feel supported and can more easily connect what they do with some wider purpose. This requires a fundamental change in how some leaders view work, as workplace managers are so focused on moving the ball down the field that they rarely take the time to consider how their employees are feeling. Anxious to get to the “results,” some leaders immediately default to offering higher pay or more benefits even when it is obvious that what employees want is to be respected, appreciated, and fundamentally important to their organization’s success.

It’s usually at some point afterward that companies end up calling leadership advisors such as myself to help fix the mess that not prioritizing what employees wanted in the first place can cause: silos, more talking than doing, conflict, and risk-aversion – among others. Such wreckage ends up costing the organization much more in time, money and energy than if they had merely made the space to create more meaning for their people in the first place.

The truth is that leaders often avoid discussing matters of purpose because doing so would involve potentially uncomfortable conversations with employees. It requires a more compassionate, human-centric approach to leadership, one that makes the effort to forge meaningful relationships with employees to help them discover their “why”, connecting the dots to identify how a person’s efforts result in a tangible, positive impact on others, whether it be for their colleagues inside the organization, external stakeholders, or the world at large. This not only serves to empower employees but strengthens one’s ability as a leader, helping them move beyond either/or thinking (i.e., “Either I drive performance at all costs or I take care of my employee’s personal needs”) to instead embrace both/and thinking.

Such a concept is at the heart of the work we at Authentic Leadership International design and roll out for leaders and teams: higher-level “soft” skills are introduced and practiced as a way of getting the “hard” stuff done in a more productive and meaningful way. Even right there in the workshops, which always result in tangible, co-created next steps. Intertwining the hard and soft stuff always results in greater impact.

Cultivating a sense of purpose at work is no easy task, however. It takes time to get there. Yet the value of the result is undeniable. When people feel that their work has some greater value, they are encouraged to meet that heightened value in terms of the quality of their work. This is good for the workers, good for their employers, and good for the world.

It is up to each of us to create an environment where everyone can find that special sense of purpose! We all deserve it.

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Building a Strong Executive Presence: A Bolder Leader’s Guide

“Executive presence then is the leadership currency
that creates the conditions for results and long-term success.”
― Clara Conti

As an Executive Coach and someone who has been on a long journey to understand what it means to “own the room” as a speaker, I’ve learned a few things about what true Executive Presence is – and isn’t. Executive presence isn’t about checking boxes, pretending to be something we’re not in the name of putting on a good front. Executive presence isn’t strictly about our unique body language – for congruence between our nonverbal cues and inner worlds are key. Most importantly, executive presence isn’t just a buzzword – it is a vital tool that can make or break a leader’s ability to inspire and support those who follow us.

So, how to get there?

Understanding Executive Presence

“People are felt rather than seen after the first few minutes.”
― John Steinbeck

The first thing to embody (no pun intended) in executive presence is the “presence” part. Without question, those of us who are fully present can draw people in, unlike those of us whose thoughts and actions dart in all directions. Presence is literally where it’s at.

When it comes to being present in an “executive” way, this simply boils down to being as at ease in our skins as possible. Merely maintaining eye contact won’t cut it if our knees are knocking from fear. In a similar vein, having just the “right” words won’t help if our voice is trembling or shouting. Overall, then, executive presence means having a strong sense of presence within ourselves.

Executive Presence

In more specific terms, though, executive presence can be difficult to understand. It isn’t a single leadership trait, but a collection of behaviors that result in our ability to instill confidence in others. This includes both the tangible (the physical) and intangible (the emotional and intellectual) aspects of leadership. Leaders need to demonstrate confidence, poise, and general leadership competency, while also embodying ethical and emotionally intelligent behavior. Of course, appearance also plays an important role here: dressing professionally and appropriately helps us establish and maintain high credibility, which in turn lends itself to stronger executive presence.

The complexity of executive presence has created many misconceptions, but the most common that I’ve encountered is the sense that it is a matter of style over substance. Some of us tend to put a great deal of emphasis on the outward image of confidence and professionalism, usually based on dated and highly prescriptive leadership models. This often results in our trying to emulate other successful leaders, trying to adapt to our image of leadership rather than build one of our own.

Yet true executive presence needs to be built around our own unique personality and level of self-confidence. Otherwise, we can be seen as inauthentic and untrustworthy in our team’s eyes.

What Executive Presence Looks Like Now

While executive presence has always been important for business leaders, it is arguably more valuable than ever since the near-constant disruptions of the past few years. With many workers feeling disconnected from their organizations, the need for us as leaders to renew our efforts to rebuild these relationships is higher than ever. A strong executive presence can go a long way here, helping us serve as an example for our team and inspiring them to commit even more to their own growth, thereby also benefitting the organization. Approaching executive presence in this way requires a major change in mindset, however. While the core concepts of executive presence haven’t necessarily changed since the pandemic began, the specifics of how they are expressed in the modern workplace are still in flux and likely will continue to change.

For instance, as remote and hybrid work increasingly become the norm, we leaders need to adjust our communication approach and online image to build a strong online presence. From investing in a better microphone to making careful decisions based on remote teams’ varied schedules and preferences, there are many steps that we can take to strengthen our executive presence in the face of this new digital work environment. There are also several trends that have taken on heightened importance among workers, particularly diversity and emotional well-being.

Executive Presence in the Post-Pandemic Future 

“…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou

A lot has changed in the working world over the past few years and more shifts will probably come, but one thing that remains constant is the importance of strong leadership. Executive presence is just one element that makes up one’s overall leadership style, but it is something that has the most immediate impact on those around us. When cultivated and leveraged effectively, our executive presence will serve as a vital leadership tool, encouraging employee engagement and empowering teams to meet and exceed organizational goals.

Just remember that for our executive presence to truly shine through, it must be authentic and built upon our own unique leadership style. After all, there are many leaders with a strong executive presence, but only you can be you. And thank goodness, because the world needs all of our unique personalities and takes on leadership to help make this a better place.

Stepping Up to Ownership: Why It Goes Hand-in-Hand with Bolder Leadership

Stepping Up to Ownership: Why It Goes Hand-in-Hand with Bolder Leadership

A sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have.”
– Pat Summitt

  • He made a mistake, but he didn’t think it was his fault. He points the finger at someone else.
  • Months after being assigned the lead on a major project…results are lacking. Why? She wasn’t given a clear enough vision.
  • That challenge retaining employees for any length of time? “Nothing much we can do…it’s a sign of the times.”

Any number of us may have encountered any of the above scenarios at any given time throughout our careers. And while I’m surely not naming any names here (although I am pointing a finger at myself), we may have even been “guilty” of dropping the ball in our own ways at one time or another.

What’s wrong with that? You might ask. Well, nothing…if we are ok with not creating much impact in our companies, with not making much of a difference in the world, or with less-than-productive relationships.

But if impact, making a difference, and collaborative relationships are important to us as leaders (and, big hint here, they should be!), then we need to take a stronger step toward ownership of what it is we want to create.

Leaders, Make the Choice to Take Ownership

To ring in 2023, I wrote about the Power of Choice in Bolder Leadership.

This year, let’s take the concept of choice a bit deeper.

Let’s talk Ownership.

“Ownership is the essence of leadership.
When you are ridiculously in charge, then you own whatever happens in a company.”
– Henry Cloud

It’s said that ownership is leadership. After all, in leadership, we are owning our power to create our visions and to inspire others to do the same. Each of us has the power of choice. This means we must fully choose our outcomes – owning every step of the process.

The Dilemma of Ownership in Leadership

The biggest recurring intended outcome for the Top Team workshops I orchestrate is drumming up greater ownership of the results.

Identifying ownership as an important outcome is all fine and well, but how do we get there?

Perhaps the easiest way to describe what ownership looks like is to define what it isn’t:

Ownership is not about:

  • falling into the “It’s not my job” or “That isn’t my responsibility”
  • passing the buck to someone else to avoid being accountable.
  • talking the talk, but not walking it.
  • Waiting for someone else to rescue us. (This one has been my personal favorite – lol.)

Ownership as a concept is not complicated.

This statement from Infoglen via LinkedIn sums it up:

“Ownership … means being accountable, taking responsibility, being decisive, solving problems, delegating, not playing the blame game and basically, taking charge.

There are core concepts that make up ownership – and any of us can benefit from incorporating them throughout our lives and leadership.

The 3 Basics of Taking Ownership

Let’s start with 3 basics that can help us – or anyone we lead – become a master of taking ownership.

“The success of a vision is determined by its ownership by both the leader and the people.”
– John C. Maxwell

  1. Clarity. It’s impossible to truly take ownership of anything if a clear vision is lacking. Whether we have a strategic vision we’re working on or we’re focused on amping up our leadership, we’ve got to have a purpose and to know what it is.

As Stephen Covey suggests, “Start with the end in mind.”

And while we may have heard this before too, it bears mentioning again:

What’s our WHY?

Developing a clear purpose benefits us in so many ways. It can help:

  • Inspire us to stay focused on what’s important
  • Jump back on track when we’ve fallen off course
  • Set intentions that help support accountability
  • Empower smart, mindful choice-making
  • Save time and energy by avoiding pitfalls

The deeper we can get down on the “why” scale, the better. For example, if we have a mindset focused on “getting ahead,” we’re far less likely to take true ownership in our leadership. Why? (No pun intended here!) Because in that case our “why” lacks meaning. The more meaning for us – and our teams – the greater the ownership. In this case, then, making a difference or being of service are far more likely to engender ownership than merely wanting to get promoted ever could.

That’s one reason why so many of my Top Team workshops and leadership develop programs emphasize meaning: when we feel emotionally tied to the outcome, most of us will move mountains to make it happen.

  1. Accountability‘s definition, according to Merriam-Webster, is “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” Sounds simple enough, right? A Forbes article adds to that definition, “…regardless of the situation or how fair it seems.

Unfairness – or my perception of it – is certainly a value which can set off my hot buttons in a heartbeat. And, if you’re like me, then you might also be tempted to use this occurrence as an excuse to deflect accountability. That’s when the seemingly modest definition above can seem anything but.

To that end, here are some helpful pointers to cultivate accountability in the workplace:

  • First, ask what does accountability look like for us personally? And to those on our team?
  • Second, consider how we can role model accountability to others around us.
  • Third, once we’ve defined what we want accountability to look like, encourage honest feedback from the team. Part of that includes facing those times when we ourselves fall short of our own ideals.

Lastly, it seems important to outline here the points that demonstrate to others that we fully own what we’re doing and are committed to accountability.

BOLDER Tip: We can leverage our network to deepen our practice of accountability. Doing so is the infusion of support and inspiration helpful to all of us. It’s one of the 8 steps to expand our leadership development (read more about that here).

Taking Ownership is a BOLDER Leadership Move

  1. BOLDNESS! Yep, there’s that word again.

Boldness doesn’t necessarily mean “fearless.” Fear pops up for all of us much of the time. That’s part of our human journey.  So, when we can accept our fears as part of being humans, thank them for wanting to protect us (they have their positive intention, after all!), and invite them to step to the side because this time around, we are trying a different approach, they tend to subside.

In fact, if our fear is of making mistakes, we can be comforted in knowing that mistakes are an important part of learning. Without our blunders along the way, we would likely not be as wise as we are today.

Moreover, ownership is what gives our leadership ship a stronger gust of wind so that we not only learn from our missteps, but we also get to our destination faster and more effectively.

When we can look at it in this way, we can also see Ownership as where it’s at.

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Innovation

The Serious Business of Play: How Lightening Up Fosters Innovation in the Workplace 

“Play is training for the unexpected.” -Marc Bekoff 

Over the last several years, we’ve heard so often that times are uncertain and rapidly changing; it’s starting to feel a bit old, right?

Like it or not, most of us would agree that we’re living in wild times.  

Innovation…and a Curious Corporate Trend in the Post-COVID Era 

Most leaders recognize that innovation and change are inextricably linked, yet a curious trend has emerged in a post-COVID world:  

“When faced with unwanted change, leaders sometimes abandon innovation for the familiar. And lately, leaders have been confronted with almost non-stop change,” writes Dylan Taylor in Fast Company.  

Indeed, innovation is a sore subject at many companies: McKinsey’s research found that 94% of executives they surveyed were not satisfied with their company’s innovative performance.  

How, then, can today’s leaders flex with the times while continuing to drive the innovation essential to survival in an increasingly competitive business world?  

Think outside the box for the creative answer… 

Play

Therein lies the key to successful innovation. But first, leaders must cultivate a workplace atmosphere of lightness where creativity can find the freedom it needs to emerge.  

In all of my workshops, music has a big role…why? Because in moving to the beat – however fast or slow it may be – we shift more into our right brains. This is where our creativity and intuition – keys to innovation – reside. It’s not that we don’t need the logic which lies in our left brains (of course we do!), it’s just that many of us try to access innovation from a place of reason – which doesn’t make sense (lol). 

“Innovation is creativity with a job to do.” – John Emmerling 

Here are 3 more helpful hints any leader can start implementing as soon as today.  

1. Lay a Foundation of Trust in the Workplace. 

Before people can feel free and encouraged to bring their unique humanness into the workplace, it’s up to leaders to establish a learning culture that is psychologically safe for all.  

In a Forbes article called “How Can Leaders Unlock the Creativity Of Their Teams?”, author Sally Percy explains exactly what the term “psychological safety” means. It’s pretty simple: “it refers to an organizational context where people feel safe to take risks and make mistakes.” 

To build this into the workplace, start with a foundation of trust and mutual respect – consider this a prerequisite to creativity, which ultimately fosters innovation. Here are some pointers: 

  • Listen loudly, speak softly: be present in conversations.  
  • Be open and vulnerable so others feel like they can approach you.  
  • Admit your humanness as a leader (i.e., no one can know it all).  
  • Leverage mistakes as powerful learning opportunities 

2. Challenge convention. 

That coveted atmosphere of lightness where team members and leaders alike feel the freedom to play (and innovate) never comes with the hum-drum of an “It’s always been done this way” mentality. At every turn, we leaders must challenge the rut of worn-out corporate “norms.” To do so, follow these 3 tips: 

  • Encourage honest dialogue so people can discuss – and reflect – as a team. It’s easy for leaders to fall into the status trap where they feel almost required to keep “everything” “on track” according to a narrow viewpoint of how they think things should be. This instantly cuts off innovation. Instead, lightness shines when people get curious and feel comfortable openly sharing their thoughts. This is where the necessity for role-modeling and a strong level of trust comes in: people will not be open if they fear there will be consequences to their words. But when they see us as leaders sharing honestly, it helps them let their guard down, too. 
  • Watch out for pre-conceived judgments that stifle creativity. Brainstorming is key to innovation. This can be a tough one for leaders to follow, because it’s so easy to make (often erroneous) assumptions. Here’s where self-reflection is beneficial – take a few minutes out each day to reflect on how you interacted with others. Would you have done anything different? How did your judgements influence a situation you encountered?  
  • Be agile enough to think long- and short-term to stay grounded. When times are changing as rapidly as they are, it’s easy to fall into a trap of the break/fix mentality. We get caught up in the moment, our vision clouded to the bigger picture. That’s not how true innovation is fostered. The most impactful leaders can switch between long- and short-term visioning to focus on what is strategically the best and most impactful steps toward getting there.  

3. Make time for innovation – and reward it. 

It sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? But often there’s a disconnect: many organizations say they value innovation, yet they aren’t actually making the time for it.  

In a timeless article called “Creating a Culture of Innovation Starts With the Leader”, author Ric Kelly gives examples of what can happen when a company creates the space needed for innovation:  

  • 3M debuted its 15 percent program back in 1948 – 15% of employees’ time was devoted to innovation. The infamous Post-It note was a byproduct of this. Who knew?! 
  • Other well-known organizations found similar success. Google, for instance, birthed Gmail and Google Earth during their 20% time…   

Every leader wants innovation, but we have to be willing to actively promote it as a routine practice – in literally every aspect of corporate life. For instance, encourage employees to go through their day with an “innovative lens” to see how even ordinary tasks might be improved.  

Also, very importantly: remember to acknowledge people for their ideas! From a simple thank you and some genuine dialogue with a team member to monetary compensation and even gifting (like Zappos does), we must reward others for their contributions. This, in turn, fosters a continual prosperous cycle of lightness and innovation.  

“I want to put a Ding! In the Universe.” – Steve Jobs 

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Why a Growth Mindset is a Competitive Advantage for Any Leader

From Losing to Learning: Why a Growth Mindset is a Competitive Advantage for Any Leader

“I never lose. I either win or learn.” – Nelson Mandela 

Failure …or learning opportunity? 

The number of people with whom I start working who equate not getting it right the first time as a “failure” surprises me. Surprises me because these already-worthy individuals seem quick – too quick – to (falsely) label themselves as not good enough. Surprises me also because by inaccurately categorizing their results, they not only waste time and energy entertaining a concept which I would argue doesn’t exist anyway, but they also create a missed opportunity to do even better next time. 

What would it look like if the word “failure” were forever banished from our vocabularies and the only viable alternative would be “learning opportunity”? I bet there would be many more people being kinder to themselves, many more innovative solutions found and, overall, a much happier world. 

Because the thing is, we don’t know what we don’t know until we know it. Might seem obvious, but how many of us expect ourselves to know what we don’t yet know and then get irritated with ourselves for not yet knowing it?  

How High Achievers Fall Prey to Shame 

Like the (many) times I shied away from learning German because I was afraid to – you guessed it – not get it right (read: sound stupid). But how, pray tell, could I have expected myself to ever learn that language if I don’t allow myself to just get started where I am – with all the mistakes that might entail?  

And I’m sure I’m not alone. Many of us – especially High Achievers – are great at keeping our bars very high. Most of us would argue that this is exactly how we have gotten so far in our lives and careers in the first place. 

 Well, yes – and no. “Yes” because maintaining a focus on excellence is a noble goal and has indeed served us and our leadership. “No” when we take our drive for excellence to the extreme of demanding perfection (an illusion) from ourselves. In this extreme case where mistakes are forbidden, we can fall prey to shame (Should Have Already Mastered Everything) and that is just plain and simply not ok. 

What to do?  

“The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
― Dr. Seuss 

A Growth Mindset is for Real Leaders 

That’s where a growth mindset comes in. 

Learning offers both long- and short-term benefits to us as leaders and to the organization. The results are both impactful and lasting:  

  • We gain an opportunity to get new info and develop skills that can help solve stressful dilemmas – or even to fend off future stressors.  
  • Reflecting on what we’ve learned can increase our feelings of competence, confidence, and capability.  
  • Through learning, we connect to a greater purpose of continual growth and improvement, which fosters resilience 
  • We learn to focus on solutions rather than problems, a mindset which can itself lighten our load and help attract better circumstances our way. 

While not always an easy task, when we can see every situation – both those which work in our favor and those which don’t – as opportunities for learning, we are not only catching on to the gist of life, but we are also laying a firmer foundation for our leadership.  

After all, real leaders, the ones who truly inspire, inspire others precisely because they know how to turn circumstances around to work for them and their teams. They have chutzpah. 

So how do we get to this shift toward a growth mindset?  

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
― Pablo Picasso 

The Stages of Learning: A Real-Life Example 

First, it starts with understanding what it means to learn. 

Consider the Stages of Learning below: 

Copyright:  Mindwerx International

Starting in the top-left box, first (as mentioned above) we don’t know what we don’t know. And why don’t we know it? Probably because we had never been exposed to or heard about this “new” subject.   

As with my earlier example, having grown up in Kentucky, USA, I had no use for the German language and had not regularly been exposed to German speakers. So, I was completely unaware of how much I didn’t know when it came to speaking German. 

Moving down to the bottom-left box of Conscious Incompetence, it can become painful when we become aware that we don’t know something. This is the stage where the rubber meets the road in learning. This is where I imagine many of us give up and/or start shaming (what a horrible “S” word!) ourselves for not already mastering something of which we just became aware.  

Once I started practicing speaking German, I felt like a fool: there I was a grownup and probably sounding like a three-year-old in my sentences…To say this experience was humbling was putting it mildly. But here’s the thing: how in the world could any of us possibly learn German – or any other language – without first taking the necessary steps (like putting strings of basic words together)? 

Practice, Stumble, Learn…and Practice Again 

So, we practice these new skills, and we stumble and learn and practice again. And we continue in this way until we come to the bottom-right stage: that of Conscious Competence. Here, we are aware that, thanks to our efforts, we are getting better in this area. However, the fact we still need to exert effort here also indicates that we have not yet fully embodied the learning.  

By this time, I was able to greet people and ask basic questions and order meals in restaurants in German. But it took some pre-thought each time (bits of sweat on my forehead were clear indicators). 

Unconscious Competence: The Realm of Mastery 

In practicing even more, we come upon Unconscious Competence. Here, we’re at mastery. In fact, the learning has become so much a part of us that we don’t have to think at all about acting upon what we have learned. We just do it. It’s who we are now. 

While I cannot say that I have mastered German (yet), I can say that I have experienced the pain of seeing the gap between my current skills and what I wanted them to be, practicing like crazy (with all the mistakes and hard learnings that are a natural part of that process) and coming out the other side to Unconscious Incompetence.  

And it feels like heaven. Truly “owning” those once-coveted-now-embodied skills makes all the seeming “losses” worth it. Because now we can see what the reason for them was:  to learn, to get better so we can attain mastery.    

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”
― Albert Einstein 

What it Means to Live a Growth Mindset 

We’ve seen why focusing on learning can be important, we’ve even looked at what the stages of learning are. But how, exactly, can one live out a continuous learning mindset? 

Here are some ways. 

#1. Stretch your strengths. 

We all have strengths, of course. But when we use them in the same way every day, we risk stifling our development. Think of skilled athletes – they don’t hone in on one specific muscle to build 24/7, but rather, they typically make strength-building a whole-body approach.  

Likewise, we might consider how we can use our strengths in as many ways possible. Think outside of the box here – literally. Instead of imagining strength building as a strictly inside-the-office activity, we can expand into a concept HBR calls strength solving:  basically, relearning how to apply our unique strengths to support others and problem-solve outside of our daily grind.  

Have leadership skills gained from years of on-the-job expertise? What if those skills were re-channeled into mentoring emerging women leaders, or offering professional advice to an up-and-coming non-profit? Get creative with this and see where the adventure leads… 

#2. Shake up how you see “learning.”  

What if I said that “unlearning” is just as important as “learning”? Say what?! Indeed: Unlearning is about releasing what is familiar and swapping it for something fresh and unknown. Discard that useless mantra “It’s always been done this way.” It’s nearly the exact opposite of the Growth Mindset we are touting here – especially when the very level of learning that got us to where we are can also keep us from soaring higher.  

For instance, early in our careers, we might have become accustomed to saying “yes” to everything. As we all know, that can’t last forever! So, we may need to unlearn agreeing to everything and develop new strategies for setting boundaries.  

Think about life during these last few years, when virtually all of us had to unlearn significant aspects of our lives to adapt to the new and unknown. It wasn’t always easy or pleasant, but it did show us the amazing resilience of the human experience.   

Today, consider identifying a few of your skills and common behaviors to determine if it might be worthwhile to “unlearn” them as you make way to meet a greater good.  

#3. The world is your classroom – show up and learn 😊 

Not a single one of us needs to wait for a formal learning opportunity to engage in. Our life, our daily work is our classroom.  

That team meeting scheduled for today? Use it as a chance to sharpen communication skills.  

Facing a dilemma figuring out how to meet a critical deadline? Leverage the moment to develop problem-solving skills, in real time.  

Have a tough decision to make? Consider it a confidence-building exercise.  

So often, we think of learning as a stand-alone practice. Yet, as HBR’s Liane Davey reminds us, we can learn and get work done at the same time. A win-win. 

#4 Practice makes progress. 

Please throw the words “failure” and “perfection” out the window and focus on “practice” and “progress” instead – however small it may appear at a time. Just like Mr. Miyagi had the Karate Kid do, the more we consistently practice, the more we progress.  

“An organization’s ability to learn, and to translate that learning into action rapidly, 
is the ultimate competitive advantage.” – Jack Welch 

A Growth Mindset – it’s for Organizations, too! 

And, on a larger scale, when many leaders within a company can heed the recommendations above, they are creating a learning culture. This is the only one which can help them navigate the roller-coaster ride which today’s world creates for any organization looking to thrive.  

And it all starts and ends with fostering a Growth Mindset. 

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