JAM's Nico Esterhuizen: Your mindset determines your leadership style

JAM CFO reveals CFOs need to understand the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset.

Mindset is a set of personal beliefs, but not necessarily truths; a way of thinking that determines one’s behaviour, outlook and mental attitude. Your mindset, irrespective of your background, and the mindset of those you come into contact with, be it in a personal or professional capacity, will have an impact on how you interpret and respond to situations, as well as your preconceived expectation of outcomes. Understanding what is meant with mindset and making some adjustments will assist every accountant in dealing with mundane issues through to complex problems. 

Professor of psychology at Stanford University, Carol Dweck has recognised two types of mindsets; a ‘fixed mindset’ and ‘growth mindset’. Understanding the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset is an essential and useful tool. 

“A fixed mindset refers to those of us who believe that all people have different and set levels of abilities, talent, intellect, morality, and personality traits,” says Linda Brimm, professor of organisational behaviour at INSEAD. These individuals usually believe that failure to reach a certain level of performance is related to a ceiling in their capabilities, talent or intellect. 

People with fixed mindsets are also likely to under- or overestimate their own performance and abilities, continually trying to prove themselves and being oversensitive to making mistakes. This occurs because most of us have been taught that success and higher performance is about proving our intellect and capabilities to the outside world.
 
However, a person’s mindset can be changed, and for people to really be successful in a global world, we need to develop attitudes and beliefs that are not fixed. Some people have a different perspective and understanding of natural abilities, talent, intellect, morality and personality. These are people who believe that natural traits can be improved with additional actions, effort and different thinking to enhance their own abilities and performance. These are people with growth mindsets. 

This does not mean that any and every person can reach unlimited heights through mere effort. It is about understanding that a fixed mindset blocks true ability, whereas a growth mindset allows people to succeed in the things that people with a fixed mindset were taught are not possible for them. 

Achieving a mindset that recognises the need for change indicates steps towards a growth mindset, and there are different steps that can be taken to move from a fixed mindset to one of growth. The fixed mindset that talent and IQ are the only required ingredients for success and higher performance is unfounded, says Angela Duckworth, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. The answer to success in a complex world is more likely to be found in the combination of passion and perseverance. A growth mindset says failure is not a permanent condition. 

The non-cognitive trait of perseverance combined with the passion for a specific topic, with a long-term focus, equates to “grit”. Grit, says irrespective of circumstances and limitations, more is possible. As accountants and leaders, a growth mindset is a vital component when dealing and leading in the world of higher complexity and challenges. 

The answer to future success and higher performance is therefore more likely to be found in how we think, complemented with an understanding of the value of passion and perseverance.