The Growth Mindset Grows Up

A call to acknowledge and celebrate the HARD WORK behind every great success

As a mother I frequently read parenting articles offering me advice on how to raise my daughter to be a well-balanced, emotionally-stable contributing individual in the world she will inhabit.  So far, I have learned that to have any chance of success, children need to be fluent in Mandarin and coding by age six (oops, #parentfail).  Lately there has been a lot of talk about acknowledging and celebrating effort over outcome to reinforce the value of hard work.  So instead of saying ‘beautiful picture’, I’m supposed to say ‘I’m proud of you for working so hard on that picture.’  This is referred to as instilling a growth mindset, a belief that success comes through dedication and hard work – in comparison to a fixed mindset, a belief that intellect and talent are fixed traits. 

I would suggest that this approach can be just as relevant when applied in a professional context as it can to parenting.  In the workplace, we collectively need to get better recognising effort and persistence, and not just the final, finished product.  There is an uncomfortable tension in our willingness to elevate and celebrate success, but a reluctance to disclose the cold, hard truth – success comes as the result of long hours, hard work and sacrifice. 

Following are some thoughts on how we can bring a growth mindset, and celebrate the value of hard work, into the workplace.

Work life balance is the unicorn of the modern workplace.  Stop looking for it – it doesn’t exist.  During the day, I find myself regularly checking twitter and Instagram and taking calls from my mom - but in return I answer emails when I’m home and am willing to take late night calls with countries that our inconveniently located in another time zone.  Instead of seeking an impossiblework/life balance I have accepted a work/life blend.  That blend also means that sometimes life will get less attention as I pursue a professional goal, or work may take a back seat as I shift my attention to something personal. 

You can work hard on your own terms. When I was in my 20’s we used to talk about ‘face time’ in the office, that meant time spent at your desk– not necessarily doing work, but being seen by your managers.  It was all about optics.  Now Facetime is an app on my phone that I use to call my daughter from business trips, so the expression doesn’t really work.  But the concept is still relevant, and as a working mother I feel an obligation to share my view that you can work extremely hard without working traditional hours or from the confines of a traditional office.  It does mean you may sacrifice things, in my case sleep, but the reality of success is often linked with difficult choices. 

Don’t confuse hard work with being boring.  I have huge respect for people who work hard, but very little tolerance for people who are boring.  I strongly advocate taking time for non-work related activities and believe that they actually make you better at your day job – a work of fiction or a reality TV show forces you to consider things from a fresh perspective and enables you to bring the outside in.   So, if you are struggling to tear yourself away from your email, convince yourself that doing something unexpected will make you better at your job – and much more interesting to talk to when I bump into you at some dreadful industry networking event.

Managers and leaders need to get better at acknowledging hard work.  I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review about the importance of saying thank you in the work place (unsolicited professional advice: when you read articles in smart sounding publications be sure to tell people - at least once a day I begin sentences with, ‘ That reminds of this article I read in…’).  I find that many managers and leaders are great at expressing gratitude when it’s directly linked to a specific success or achievement.  What I see less often, and what I personally could do more of, is acknowledging hard work – both as it happens and then intrinsically linking the hours, the effort and stress with the successful end product. 

We can’t totally de-couple hard work from the outcome.  No shareholder ever said, ‘don’t worry about meeting your targets, just try hard, that’s enough for us.’  In a business context, results matter and I would be naïve if I suggested that they didn’t.  My point is simply that exceptional results are typically linked to exceptionally hard work and we can get better at acknowledging this.

At risk of sounding like a Pinterest board, one of my favourite quotes has always been good things come to those who wait work really, really hard and never give up.

OK, I’m off now.  I have work to do!

Avra Lorrimer

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search