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What I learnt from my mentee - Fixed and Growth Mindset in the real world?

By Kurt Lindley, sports coach UK Development Lead Officer

We often make the overarching statement that mentoring is a two way relationship, reciprocal in learning and one which allows growth for both parties. But how true is this.....

I have been formally mentoring within the talent and performance environment for the past 12-18 months and I can definitely say I have learnt a great deal from each interaction with the coaches and management staff I work with. During one such meeting a coach I was working with seemed troubled that this was a one way relationship and was concerned that perhaps I was not getting anything from it. I responded with the standard statements around reciprocal learning and this being a growth experience, but this didn’t wash. It seemed something more tangible and overt was needed so I said ‘teach me something’.....and this is what I received in my next e mail.

I read a book by Dweck recently and the following example of the difference between a fixed and growth mind set helped me implement changes to my own behaviour in order to affect change in other people I work with leading up to the Commonwealth Games and beyond.

In the example provided two groups of people (I believe children) were given a test to do, challenging their knowledge on a certain topic. One group got their results back and were praised where good performance/attainment was achieved. The whole group was exposed to the glorification of personal success (a high test score) and of the success of those around them. They were told how clever they were and the outcome was worshiped.

The other group were praised for their results but everyone was honoured for their efforts, how hard they had tried. The value in effort was hammered home and this is what any encouragement was based on, rather than pure attainment. It wasn’t a case of rewarding people for being clever. The process and persistence in trying hard was appreciated/worshiped.

A harder, following test was administered and the groups reactions were interesting if not diverse. The group praised previously on effort displayed a general improvement in scores and an openness regarding their new achievements, good or bad. However the group previously praised for the outcome and their intelligence showed a decline in performance and effort/application to the test but more interestingly displayed a tendency to conceal their lesser performance and lie about their most recent achievement.

It would appear in this isolated example that promoting a growth mind set; satisfaction and value in the effort and persistence applied resulted in a subsequent improvement in testing but more importantly an openness and honesty in their behaviour. The outcome based praise of attainment, telling people they are wonderful for their intelligence resulted in the children preserving what people thought of them by creating a fiction and being dishonest about their follow up results. Effort was less and only the impression of cleverness was important. No value seemed to be identified in the process or effort and no learning took place about how to succeed.

Recently I have been trying to implement new process and encourage certain behaviours in my staff leading into Glasgow 2014. I wanted a higher quality of information gathered and stored, an archive of useful performance data to reflect and learn upon. To ultimately start better understanding what good looks like and what delivers world class performances. Some have taken up the challenge and really made an effort to deliver new strategy, trying new things. I was conscious when these staff members began to face challenges and weren’t achieving their desired goals that they would lose faith, give up or complain. I am yet to come to a conclusion on whether they have or will.

However, I have made a conscious effort to reinforce the good work they have done, the process orientated aspects of their work and endeavour which have not gone unnoticed. I have tried to send quick, short emails and text messages saying for example, ‘good effort’, ‘keep up the effort, ‘it will pay off!’, ‘what can we learn from this experience for next time’ or ‘does anything need to change next time?’ in order to focus every ones minds on persistence, effort and the process rather than the outcome, especially when the result is less than desirable. It is easy to be pleased with the success of achieving something great but without engaging with high effort and an attempt to understand the process will success be repeated? I hope my encouragement and leaning towards an open mindset and high effort will pay off. Let’s wait and see if it breeds persistence towards the Commonwealth games and holds us in good stead thereafter.

So what did I learn....?

I leant a great deal about the mentoring relationship my mentee and myself, here are some of my overriding thoughts:

  • Don’t underestimate what you can learn from every meeting, interaction or conversation- there is always something to learn
  • Be open to the unexpected origin of learning, your mentee may well know much more than you
  • Do not be complacent in your learning and thinking, your mentee may well be thinking beyond where you are
  • Embrace the richness of the relationship for all it may provide
  • Self directed change is extremely powerful...he did it without me ...I wonder did he ever need me...

I as a mentor have definitely grown in my skills and experiences as a consequence of this. Don’t be afraid to do the same.