The importance of a learning mindset
Transitioning into a new role presents difficulties to even the most talented employees. Indeed, psychological research suggests that 70% of today’s top performers1 lack the skills essential for success in future roles. Taking on new roles often requires a whole new set of skills, which leaders must learn quickly in order to transition successfully. As a result, I believe that a learning mindset is potentially the most crucial ingredient to ensure a smooth transition. The importance of the five areas of a learning mindset are listed below:
Self-perception refers to two broad areas – self-awareness and self-belief. During a transition, those who are self-aware are able to maximise the impact of their strengths in their new role. They also remain mindful of how they can minimise the negative effects of, as well as work to improve in, their development areas. Equally, individuals who believe in themselves are more likely to take the appropriate steps listed below to ensure they are successful in their new role.
Challenges provide new experiences which can be used to maximise learning and development early on in a new role. Those who truly believe that their ability can increase through hard work and effort develop a receptiveness to challenge2, and are therefore likely to learn the new skills faster than others.
Although embracing challenges will provide feedback and information, leaders vary in how they respond to, and reflect upon, this. The most effective way to learn is to consciously and actively reflect on both positive and negative events, whilst always focusing on what can be changed in the future. This is of course in contrast to dwelling excessively and unproductively over something which went wrong! Without effective reflection, individuals are unable to identify the appropriate changes they need to make for their new role.
Research suggests that an over-reliance on past strengths can actually increase the chances of failure in a new role3. It is therefore vital for leaders to identify early on which behaviours may need to change to remain effective within a new role. For instance, our own research found that the most frequently cited skill which new leaders need to adopt is the ability to delegate and empower others4. The faster leaders can develop this behaviour, the more successful their transition is likely to be.
Commit to Practice
Of course, it is not easy to develop new behaviours. However, with experience, new skills become automated and consolidated, with less mental capacity required. In order to receive relevant experience, leaders can proactively look to specifically practice the new skills which they have identified as vital in their new role. This process may be facilitated using goal setting or with the help of a coach.
Inevitably, each of these areas of a learning mindset should be supported by the organisation and those around them. Nonetheless, it is clear that the chances of a successful transition are vastly improved when a learning mindset is present.
(1) Martin, J. & Schmidt, C. (2010). How to keep your top talent. Harvard Business Review, May, 54-61.
(2) Dweck, C. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential. Constable & Robinson Limited.
(3) Kovach, J. (1986). The Derailment of Fast-Track Managers. Organisational Dynamic, 15, 41-48.
(4) Maitland, A. & McGrane, K. (2013). Investigating the Leadership Pipeline. Lane4 White Paper.