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The Importance of a Growth Mindset

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo


In her March 2019 article, Chief Master Sgt. Shae Gee, 17th Mission Support Group superintendent, emphasized the importance of leading by the right example. I encourage you to read her story.

In short, as a young staff sergeant, she found herself in a situation where she had taken action to prevent a toxic supervisor from negatively affecting her career and defining her as a Non Commissioned Officer.

Just like in the chief’s story, this shift in mindset from a reactive spectator to a proactive Airman can be a turning point in anyone’s career. As Airmen, we regularly face challenging situations both at work and at home, but because of our training, we are expected to respond in an effective and appropriate manner. On a daily basis we all consciously make deliberate choices, from the mundane to the severe, on how to respond to various challenges, setbacks, criticisms, failures, or other unwelcomed situations. While some individuals take action quickly, others seemingly take no action at all; sometimes to their detriment. An essential component of understanding one’s response is recognizing the type of mindset exhibited by all of those involved to include you and your peers, subordinates, supervisors and family.

Gee’s account reminded me of a psychology article I had recently read and discussed with my leadership team. Acclaimed psychologist, Dr. Carol Dweck, introduced readers to two basic mindsets that shape one’s life in her book titled “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” Her research categorized people into two distinct groups; those with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset. Dweck characterized a person with a fixed mindset as someone who believes intelligence is static, actively avoids challenges, gives up easily, considers their effort as fruitless, ignores negative feedback, and is threatened by the success of others.

On the other hand, an individual with a growth mindset believes intelligence can be developed, embraces challenges, overcomes obstacles, believes effort is necessary along the path to mastery, learns from criticism, and finds inspiration in the success of others. Her most important conclusion was self-imposed limitations have the ability to hinder those with a fixed mindset from reaching their full potential.

Fortunately, time and effort can result in a shift in mindset. Understanding the difference between these two mindsets and how they influence one’s response to the various situations we encounter, allows for better communication, stronger team cohesion, and healthier relationships. However, how does one foster a growth mindset?  

It starts with recognizing that you have a choice in how you respond to the following questions. In a time when Gen. David Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth Wright, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force ,are calling for multi-skilled hybrid Airmen to combat near-peer adversaries, ask yourself, what type of Airmen does the Air Force need? What type of Airman do I aspire to be?  What type of supervisor do I need to be? How can I best develop my subordinates?

Whether it is resiliency, innovation, professional development or other desired competencies, promoting a growth mindset is essential to the success of the Air Force.

It is important to note, however, exhibiting openness, flexibility and a desire for change alone is insufficient and unlikely to be of much assistance. A true growth mindset must be reinforced through deliberate action and continuous effort. It is equally important to foresee issues and resolve them before they become problems, actively seek feedback and volunteer for challenging projects. Utilizing your growth mindset will not only allow you to further enhance your strengths and improve your weaknesses but also to acquire new skills and knowledge.

At the last Stars and Stripes promotion ceremony, Col. Ricky Mills, 17th Training Wing commander, challenged everyone to do three things: make good decisions, work hard and have a positive attitude. In other words, he expects all of us to have a growth mindset. How will you respond?