As mainframers, most of us have worked at organizations where managers dealt with customer complaints or changes in the marketplace in a really negative way. The luckiest among us have worked at companies where managers seemed happy to deal with whatever life threw at them. So, what’s the fundamental difference between these two types of managers? And—perhaps more importantly from an organization’s point of view—which one is still in business, and which one has been bought out or ceased trading?
Companies are made up of individuals. Some individuals set the tone of a company or a department, and these are the ones who have the biggest impact on how well a company deals with issues. Back in 2006, Carol Dweck wrote a book called “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” which looked at this in some detail. According to Dweck’s ideas, some people believe their success is based on innate ability; these people are said to have a “fixed” theory of intelligence (i.e. a fixed mindset). Other people believe their success is based on hard work, learning, training and doggedness; these people are said to have a “growth” or an “incremental” theory of intelligence (i.e. a growth mindset). Everyone else is meant to be somewhere on a continuum between the two extremes. And, like most things relating to the mind, people may not be aware of their mindset or where they are on the continuum.
How to Determine Someone's Mindset
So, how can you tell which end of the spectrum your manager is if you can’t ask them? Well, their mindset can actually be inferred from their behavior—especially their reactions to failure. The thinking is that fixed-mindset people dread failure because it’s a negative statement on their basic abilities. On the other hand, growth mindset people don't worry about failure as much because they realize their performance can be improved, and learning comes from failure.
You’ve probably come across people in your mainframe career who are right down at the fixed mindset end of the spectrum. They believe their basic abilities, their intelligence and their talents are just fixed traits, and they only have so much of them. Their goal at work is to look clever all the time and never look stupid, whereas people at the growth mindset end of the spectrum understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence.
The Limitations of a Fixed Mindset
A person with a fixed mindset will tend to avoid challenges, whereas a person with a growth mindset will embrace challenges. When faced with obstacles, fixed mindset people tend to give up easily, whereas growth mindset people will persist in the face of setbacks. Fixed mindset people view effort as fruitless or worse, whereas growth mindset people see effort as the path to mastery.
When it comes to receiving criticism, people with a fixed mindset will ignore any useful negative feedback they are given. On the other hand, growth mindset people will learn from the criticism. When other people are successful, fixed mindset people feel threatened by their success, but growth mindset people find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.
As a result of this, fixed mindset people may plateau early and achieve less than their full potential. They have a deterministic view of the world. Growth mindset people reach ever-higher levels of achievement, and this gives them a greater sense of free will. One of the quotes from Dweck’s book states: “It’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest.” Dweck concludes that the growth mindset will allow a person to live a less stressful and more successful life.
The Mainframe Mindset
Although Dweck is talking about praising children, her ideas can also be extended to mainframe staff. She suggests that you don’t say “Good job, you're really clever” to children because it will make them more likely to develop a fixed mindset. In terms of mainframe staff, saying something along those lines will move their mindset towards the fixed mindset end of the spectrum.
So what should you say to children (or other mainframe staff)? Try saying “Good job, you worked very hard.” This leads them to develop a growth mindset. It’s a good way to encourage junior mainframe staff to persist despite experiencing some kind of failure by encouraging them to think about learning in a certain way. Simply praising someone’s intelligence harms their motivation and their performance.
Carol Dweck’s mindset theory is an interesting way to look at the mainframe staff around you and encourage them to perform as well as they can. And that can lead to your company working in a way that will keep it in business in the future.