Struggling can seem a lot like thrashing about, trying to free yourself from a constricting situation. Challenge (and yes, sometimes even failure) is a fact of life for leaders.
It all comes down to mindset.
When I first discovered psychologist Carol Dweck’s work on people with a “growth mindset” and how they respond to failure, I was captivated. A new book I’m reading examines this mindset as it relates to leadership. Steven Snyder, author of Leadership and the Art of the Struggle takes the idea of a “growth mindset” further by connecting it to a practice he calls harnessing your “adaptive energy.”
Energy is defined as “the capacity of acting or being active” and Mr. Snyder expands this active approach to creating a practice called harnessing your “adaptive energy,” which he defines as:
“The force that propels you to reach your dreams, pointing you toward the goal line and warning you when you veer off course.”
Adaptive energy is related to a growth mindset in that people who use adaptive energy are persistent, even if failure seems imminent and if they do fail, they are able to isolate what went wrong and learn from it.
Steven Snyder suggests that leaders can harness their “energy” to allow them to navigate their “struggles” in a way that promotes learning and personal growth.
Here one way you can make this concept come to life:
- Think about a project or situation you led that you would characterize as a “failure” at work.
- Now, think about a different project that was equally challenging, but was “successful” (in whatever way you define success.)
- Make a worksheet that looks like this:
Project – Failed
Project – Success
Factors contributing to failure/success
What did I learn?
- After you’ve completed this worksheet, review your notes:
- How many of the “factors” listed had to do with things you could not control?
- What role do you cast yourself in for both projects – are they similar, or different? For example, are you the “victor” in the Successful Project and a disheartened player in the Failure Project?
- How long is your list of “things learned?” Is it a growth-mindset? (“I learned to better estimate the level of commitment senior management has to a project”) or a fixed-mindset (“I’m no good at negotiating, so our team got stuck.”)
The goal of this reflection exercise is to discover your thought patterns – how do you tend to see yourself as you navigate your daily leadership challenges?
When you see setbacks as a chance to learn and get better, you are practicing “adaptive energy”; you can use those potential energy-draining situations to grow personally and professionally.
Image credit: Microsoft
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