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Most of us assume that it’s our performance in any work task that determines our eventual success. But what if you were told your chances of success are in some ways preset by you, well before you’ve even entered the building? In reality, a strong determinant of our eventual success or failure is typically the attitude that we bring to each challenge. Or put simply, our mindset.
In this context, mindset refers to ground-breaking work by psychologist Carol Dweck from Stanford University, who first presented research comparing the attitudes of two types of people – those who approaching tasks with a ‘fixed’ mindset, versus those with a so-called ‘growth’ mindset.
As regional talent development director for PageGroup in Asia-Pacific, Jimmy Pang spends much of his time training sales teams in the benefits of approaching challenges with your mind tuned to the possible benefits ahead. “Growth mindset is defined as the ability to learn. If you have a growth mindset, you’re a person that is always willing to learn and push your boundaries,” says Pang.
People with fixed mindsets on the other hand, literally live on their legacy. “They’ll say, ‘I have a good track record, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved before. I live by that, and there’s no reason for me to grow any more’”. In a corporate context, the broad definition of this behaviour, is leaning on your legacy.
In a corporate world, it’s easy to obsess over results – our KPIs or sales targets can literally dominate occupy our view. This risks being self-limiting: adopting a growth mindset means viewing the result as important – but less important than the process itself. “Regardless of the results, whether you make it or you don’t, it’s what you learn from the results that really counts”, says Pang. In a contemporary work discussion, some would describe this is willingness to fail – in order to gain the most important lessons.
Key to embracing this equation is to remove black and white notions such as success or failure from the work equation. In turn, having removed the stress factor (win or lose, make or break), we are in turn placed in a better state to truly perform at an optimal level. Therefore good questions to ask while training someone in having a growth mindset include, what was the effort like? How was the process – did you enjoy it? What did you learn about it?
Pang has been working with the mindset concept for three or four years, a mode of conditioning that is also applied in realms as diverse as education and sports. “In a corporate world, the only way to learn is to push your boundaries, and to be comfortable in doing so,” he says.
What are the sure signs to look out for in interviews? Pang suggests being cautious about those who ask a future-driven question by always looking backwards. “You come across people who talk about their previous company all the time and their results there,” he says. “They’re not in that company any longer, but they’re still living on that legacy.” While they may have been effective then, they may also not see any reason to stretch forward. “These people need reassurance: the affirmation of their worth to society. And they struggle to let go.”
If you find yourself in a new challenge, one way to lock in your potential is to let go of pre-conceptions, and remind yourself that, ‘I’m here to learn new things’. Critical to the equation will always be a willingness to listen. One question explored within Dweck’s research was, can group mindsets be changed? To Pang, the answer is a cautious yes. “It can be changed: but it starts with the leader, and with your thought process. Accept that you can’t change the past – you can only learn from it. And ideally, don’t talk about the past unless it’s in order to learn something about the next challenge.”
What if something goes wrong along the way? “I don’t like to blame people,” Pang describes. “I’d rather find the root cause of the problem, and explore what it is we can do differently. By doing so, I’ve cultivated a team culture that’s forward-looking. What did we learn, and how do we take it forward?” The attitude can liberate your team from the past. “It’s how you cultivate a dynamic team. And ideally, what happens is, your team becomes very empowered.”
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