On the Clock

Work on Your Mindset—Not Your Weaknesses

Career columnist Liz Bentley explains how the right mindset will get you further than any talent can.

When I first got into coaching, a lot of companies asked my firm if we could change people and work on their weaknesses to improve their work quality and experience.

So we jumped aboard with this thinking and started examining people’s shortcomings and struggles. We held the mirror up to our clients and told them they had to change, and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t move forward in their careers.

For the most part, this didn’t really work. People don’t want to work on weaknesses because those are the parts they already don’t like about themselves. It makes them lose confidence, become paralyzed, give up and go back to unproductive behavior. Don’t get me wrong—some of the mitigation worked in powerful ways. And yet there was something extremely important missing: the understanding that as humans we are all inherently flawed and that that’s OK.

The most important keystone to evolving is getting in the right mindset.

The essence of our journey is not about correcting all of our flaws but about constantly evolving so we continually turn into a better version of ourselves. With this crucial insight, we have shifted our coaching methods to focus less on shortcomings and more on the most important keystone to evolving: getting in the right mindset.

Step 1: Find a growth mindset.

To evolve, we have to shift into what renowned psychologist Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” This means understanding that the mind is always growing and never stagnant, instead of thinking that intelligence and talents are fixed. Herein lies the true engine of our evolution. In a “fixed mindset,” we perceive negative feedback as criticism, whereas in a growth mindset we see it as an opportunity. Let’s say your manager tells you that you move too slowly with your work. If you feel hurt or offended that the manager is picking on you, you’re trapped in a fixed mindset and may miss an important opportunity. Conversely, in a growth mindset you would examine why you’re moving slowly, how it impacts the team, and what you can do to shift and grow. You see this type of feedback as chance to rise and improve.

Step 2: Recognize your truths.

We all have our own version of the truth and, usually, we like our own version best. However, the truth lies in multiple perspectives. I see a lot of leaders get feedback that they’re well-liked and everyone enjoys being on their team. Often these leaders feel this is their greatest quality and the reason for their team’s high morale. However, while a positive work environment is important, there is usually more to the story. These same leaders also get feedback that they aren’t pushing their team to rise and they aren’t driving results. They don’t want to upset people or make them uncomfortable. They’re afraid of being the “bad guy,” so they don’t hold people accountable. It’s critical for them to see this truth, too, so they can adjust their approach and grow.

Seeing these truths is tough! It feels easier to be in a fixed mindset where we come up with excuses and blame others, saying “this is just the way I am” or “he’s always too critical” or “it’s impossible to succeed in this environment,” to protect ourselves from hard truths that we’re afraid to see. We operate as if the pain of admitting shortcomings is too much and will topple us.

The reality is that hiding from our truths is harder than addressing them. When we open our minds to see other perspectives and the truth of how people experience us, we give ourselves the opportunity to rise. Once we get used to living in a growth mindset, seeing truths gets easier and, perhaps most importantly, feels less personal. Instead of feeling hurt, we see a challenge to tackle.

In a time of great change in the business world, we have to evolve so that we’re able to adapt and pivot when needed. While doing this takes a lot of practice, not doing this will set you back as others around you evolve and win opportunities. The new name of the game isn’t talent and intellect. It’s how much can you grow and shift in this ever-changing economy.

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