Leading and learning

I just spoke at the Women in Film and Television’s Executive Management Program about leadership and brain research.

We either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset to learning. 

Carol Dwerk in her book Mindset suggested that those with a fixed mindset believe that we are born with innate talents and abilities. We can improve a bit but not that much. People who believe that their abilities are fixed tend to shy away from learning new things because they believe they just aren’t wired to learn math, languages or _____ insert your own.

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People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe that learning, or increasing their abilities, is like a muscle much like lifting weights – the more you do it, the easier it gets and you can progress. Leaders with a growth mindset are more likely to ask their subordinates for feedback so that they can improve and tend to be better negotiators.

We’re hard wired to go for the negative.

According to brain research, we haven’t evolved quite as far as we like to believe. Back when we were roaming the wilds, we were predators but we were also prey. So our brains were constantly scanning for the negative since we didn’t want to end up as someone’s dinner. That area of the brain, the amygdala, still operates in that same way – it’s constantly searching for potential threats in our environment.

To add even a greater challenge for our learning, negative experiences are like Velcro – ‘once bitten twice shy” and positive ones are like Teflon. We really have to compensate for any negative comments. It takes five positive comments to counteract the critical one. We have to be ever vigilant so that we can continue to learn and lead.

Our brain thinks in images and pictures.

We know from high performance athletes that visualization of the race or finish line improves the chances of excelling. The area of our brain where our imagination originates is very close to the action part of our brain.

As an executive coach, I ask entrepreneurs to take some time and develop their ideal day in the business. They start from the early morning, even picking out what clothes they wear and go through their successes of the day. Or another exercise is visualizing your business two years from now – what kind of work are you doing, what does your office look like, who are your partners and what kind of revenues are you making?

If we can imagine it, we can do it.

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