Executive Exchange Insights: Mindset Matters in 2017

In my line of work, it’s expected to receive frantic calls from business owners and executive teams this time of year. Although, I was quite surprised at the volume of calls through November and December from a diverse group of leadership professionals. In this time of reflection we see entrepreneurs, big business and small companies begin their heavy focus on year end and January strategic plans. Although their inquiries were different, it all meant the same thing to me, and the common denominator was people. Our conversations started much the same way: “Joan, I want to get your professional opinion on ______ to achieve this business result with my people.”

As a brain-based coach who combines decades of recruiting experience with cognitive learning, I prescribe to asking more questions than giving more answers. I use one question in particular for a variety of different issues, so it’s up there as one of my favorites. “Are you ready to look at your people problems in new ways?” It starts with people innovation. A term stating that leaders need to be committed to exercising their brain in new ways, and just like any muscle in your body, it can be painful, uncomfortable and easily reverted back to coach potato mode!

I am an avid admirer of Carol Dweck, Ph.D, and have tested out her “fixed vs. growth mindset” both in my coaching, and in my research facility over the past 5 years. I can safely say mindset matters when approaching your workforce, but first let’s define these terms. Dweck has spent her career studying motivation, personality and development, and has identified two types of mindsets:

  • Fixed Mindset: Intelligence is a fixed trait
  • Growth Mindset: Intelligence is a quality that can be changed and developed

Dweck helps us to understand that the brain is like a muscle; it gets stronger and works better the more it’s exercised. It seems that too often in the workforce of growth companies, employers and employees believe their brain is static, leading them to think that their talent and progress is a permanent thing. In turn, there is an unwillingness to change certain characteristics that could bring later progress and learning. Every time you work hard, stretch yourself and learn something new, your brain forms new connections. When implemented in the organizational structure, my clients are always pleasantly surprised at the positive outcomes, and the receptive nature their employees have to change.

It’s all too often that my year end conversations conclude with a client whose company is filled to the brim with fixed-mindset driven executives. The issue is that these managers view their accomplishments as a result of their invariable skill. Moreover, any shortcomings by their direct subordinates are viewed as incompetence, or poor work ethic. Whereas managers with fixed mindsets fail to recognize positive changes in employee performance, their peers with growth mindsets typically support employee development. Their culture is usually built around that of a more collaborative and innovative environment, typically producing an increase in productivity from the top-down.

As I review all of my year end data, I can confidently report that each company, large and small, had individuals who were willing to open their mind to new ways of thinking. These same companies, once coached from the top-down about the malleable nature of their mindsets, advanced people initiatives at a much higher rate than those who remained fixed. In fact, it was a staggering 98% of those executive teams that retained a growth mindset who saw positive change. I saw Dweck’s philosophy play out firsthand with companies large and small across America. Luckily, the advances in neuroscience have provided great insight as to the importance of attitude, and the necessity for continued evolution of leaders. As a data geek myself, I’m sitting front row at the workforce blockbuster of 2017.

So, as you dive into 2017 hoping that this is the year of max profits and growth, remember one thing… It’s not what you are born with that matters; it’s your mindset that matters. The more nurturing you become with your people process, the better chance your company achieves a growth mindset.


is an accomplished organizational consultant and executive coach with three decades of helping growing companies identify, retain, and develop top talent. Her time as President and Owner of APA Solutions, the premier brain-based human capital consulting firm of WNY, has been spent developing cutting edge, science-based solutions to the people pains of today.
–Article originally published on LinkedIn Pulse