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October 09, 2019 by Dede Henley

Can Your Job Make You a Better Person?

shutterstock_763002988.jpgPreviously published on Forbes

Are you a better person because of the time you spend at work?

It used to be that work was a place to show up, do your job, get paid and go home. We didn’t expect our employer to invest in us or help us become better people. That was our preacher’s job. But today, employees have very different expectations of their boss and their company. They want to contribute and share responsibility. They want feedback. They want coaching about what they are good at and what they need to get better at. 

Imagine showing up to work each day knowing that in addition to working on projects, problems and products, you could also work on yourself. Any meeting or conversation may be a context in which you are asked to make progress on overcoming your blind spots—ways you get in your own way and unknowingly hinder your effectiveness at work.

The sticky wicket of this self-development idea is that the richest learning happens when things go wrong. When we face setbacks and failures. These are the things we avoid and hope won’t happen to or around us. It’s as though we think that our days should naturally be filled with progress, forward momentum and success. We avoid breakdown and failure at all costs.

In fact, much of how you think and engage in your work comes from your mindset. Your mindset both mobilizes you and holds you back from rising to your potential. Carol Dweck, who coined the phrase growth mindset, writes in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves— in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?

How do you react in the midst of breakdown and failure? Do you place blame or make excuses? Do you become anxious and try to avoid embarrassment? Do you feel incompetent or defeated? Or do you look for what you can learn?

We recently worked with a VP from a global healthcare company who was a hard-driver and led mostly via command and control. Rich micro-managed his team members, which made them feel like he didn’t trust them. Of course, this contributed to Rich’s slow decision-making, because he needed all the facts lined up first. If he told the truth, he didn’t really value collaboration or diversity.

Fortunately, his boss encouraged Rich to adopt a growth mindset.

Rich began slowing down and reflecting more. He increased his self-awareness about his leadership approach and impact. He began to see that his unconscious motivations and fears were disempowering his team. These insights led to practices that engaged his team in more decisions. He started getting out of the weeds and trusting his team with the details. Rich is inspired by his own results and wants to create a culture that promotes self-reflection and personal growth, innovation that comes from trusting one’s instincts and communication that builds trust.

Your turn. Might you begin to cultivate a growth mindset?

If you are a leader with the ability to influence what happens in your organization, think about your team and company from a larger perspective. Create a culture where people get better as a result of having worked there — not just better at work tasks, but better human beings, better communicators and listeners, better at resolving conflict in a productive way and better at reflecting on their own behavior and participation and making improvements as they go.

The reality is this: An organization can prosper only if its culture is designed from the ground up to enable ongoing development for all of its people.

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