Based upon my experience speaking and working with thousands of business professionals — mostly high-level leaders and/or human resource professionals — I have learned three things about the typical professional:

  1. The term “mindsets” is part of their regular vocabulary.
  2. They understand that mindsets are critical to individual and organizational success.
  3. They are unable to identify a specific mindset that is critical to individual and organizational success.

Our mindsets are the mental lenses we wear that shape how we see and interpret the world, which influences the quality and effectiveness of our cognitive processing, decision-making and workplace behaviors. Our mindsets are foundational to individual and organizational success, but few people are able to identify specific mindsets that drive effectiveness.

Researchers have studied four sets of mindsets for over 30 years in a variety of disciplines (e.g., psychology, management, marketing and education). Each of these sets represents a continuum ranging from positive to negative. The research has demonstrated that the mindsets on the positive sides of these continuums help individuals think, learn and behave more effectively than people with mindsets on the negative sides.

Consider the following situations that you likely encounter on a regular basis, and ask yourself: “How do I generally perceive these situations?”

  1. Encountering challenges or failure: Do you see challenges and failure as saying something about your worth and, thus, try to avoid them, or do you see them as opportunities to learn and grow — sometimes, in fact, the best ways to learn and grow?
  2. Having someone disagree with you: Do you see their disagreement as a threat against you, your role, or your intelligence and capabilities, and become defensive, or do you see their disagreement as essential for improving your thinking and decision-making?
  3. Taking risks: Do you see risk as something to avoid, or do you see it as essential for you to reach your dreams, goals and ambitions?
  4. Working with a subordinate, co-worker or customer: Do you see them as objects — there to add value to you and what you are doing—or do you value them as people and consider how you can add value to them?

Putting all of these examples together, consider which person is going to make a better leader, manager, co-worker and employee. If these people represented the culture of your organization, would it be more agile, psychologically safe and successful?

Each of the rows in this table represents a different set of mindsets. In what follows, I present each mindset and how it influences how individuals process and behave.

Comparing mindsets: Person A vs. Person B

Fixed and Growth Mindsets

A fixed mindset is the belief that you are unable to change your talents, abilities and intelligence. A growth mindset, on the other hand, is the belief that you are able to change them and that others can do the same.

People with a fixed mindset are primarily focused on demonstrating their talent, ability and intelligence; if they do not believe they can improve, and they fail, they are left to internalize that failure. As such, they generally try to avoid any challenges where there is a prospect of failure.

Individuals with a growth mindset are primarily focused on learning and growing, not on how they look and appear to others. As such, they embrace challenges and failure as opportunities to learn and develop.

Closed and Open Mindsets

When individuals have an open mindset, they are open to the ideas of others and are willing to take those ideas seriously, while being open to the possibility that they could be wrong. People with a closed mindset are not open to the ideas of others and believe they are nearly always right.

As Shane Parrish, a business investor and popular blogger and podcaster, writes, “Closed-minded people would never consider that they could actually be closed-minded. In fact, their perceived open-mindedness is what’s so dangerous.”

Again, closed and open mindsets drive individuals to see things differently. Specifically, people with a closed mindset are focused on being seen as being right. As such, they see disagreements as threats, avoid different perspectives and are uncomfortable with ambiguity.

Individuals with an open mindset, on the other hand, focus on finding truth, even if it means that they are wrong. They see disagreements as opportunities to improve their thinking, seek out new and different perspectives, and are more comfortable with ambiguity.

Prevention and Promotion Mindsets

Individuals with a prevention mindset are focused on not losing and avoiding problems, while individuals with a promotion mindset are focused on winning and gains.

When employees have a prevention mindset, they are primarily concerned about not sinking. As such, they are focused on avoiding problems, not taking risks and maintaining the status quo.

Employees with a promotion mindset are focused on what is truly important: reaching a specific goal, objective or destination. As such, they anticipate problems, are open to take risks (believing that without risk comes no reward) and seek to advance rather than maintain the status quo.

Employees with a prevention mindset end up being blown about by the winds and the currents of their sea, ending up in a destination not of their own design. Employees with a promotion mindset, on the other hand, are willing to brave the winds and currents to end up where they want to be.

Inward and Outward Mindsets

Individuals with an inward mindset see the people they lead as objects. Individuals with an outward mindset see them as people and valuable partners.

When individuals have an inward mindset, they see themselves as superior and their followers as instruments. Thus, when an employee is underperforming, they believe the best course of action is to replace the instrument with a better one. When individuals have an outward mindset, they see themselves as equal with, if not inferior to, their followers. Thus, when an employee is underperforming, they seek to understand what is preventing them from performing at a higher level. They are willing to ask themselves, “Who am I being, that keeps their light from shining?”

There are three primary benefits for being able to specifically identify these mindsets. Only by having labels and understanding of these mindsets can individuals and organizations:

  • Evaluate their mindsets.
  • Have a clear understanding of which mindsets they need to develop to enhance their effectiveness and success.
  • Give developmental attention to improving their mindsets.