Leadership & Productivity

The boss of a unicorn bank leads with a growth mindset, here's how SME owners can do it too

11 min read

08 April 2019

Features Editor, Real Business

Is embodying a growth mindset the secret to leadership and business success? Apart from the psychological benefits including higher resilience and lower rates of depression, it prevents conflicts within teams and heightens creativity. But don't take our word for it, we include the testimonies of some of the UK's most successful entrepreneurs, (including the co-founder of a unicorn status bank – OakNorth), who all swear by the growth mindset approach to innovative leadership. We give you the full-on definition of a growth mindset belief, how you can apply it as a culture in your office, and how to identify if you are exhibiting a fixed mindset that's stopping you from achieving better leadership skills.

We’ve all heard the saying that great work and even greater leadership starts with having a positive mindset. But are business leaders, including company founders and CEOs, really putting this type of thinking into practice, or are they just engaging in lip service to some half-believed theory or practice?

Recently, Eduardo Briceno, Co-founder, and CEO of Mindset Works, a brain training tool, welcomed a select number of SME owners to a central London location, (hosted by elite entrepreneurial networking organisation, The Supper Club and AXA PPP healthcare), to discuss how to achieve a growth mindset in business.

What is a growth mindset? Why do business leaders need it?

“The best way to predict the future is to create it”, says Briceno, quoting from one of America’s most famous leaders, President Abraham Lincoln, but these words, inspirational undertones aside, can also be used to stimulate a growth mindset approach in business, Briceno adds…

“The growth mindset theory is underpinned by the belief that human qualities are changeable, and that we can develop our abilities,” says Briceno. “Belief leads to changed behaviour and different results,” he continues.

So, if having a growth mindset means that the individual believes they can alter their way of thinking for the better, what is the opposite mindset? It’s called a fixed mindset. (Watch out, you may start to recognise some of the fixed mindset traits below in your own forms of leadership at work!)

What is a fixed mindset?

Whilst having a growth mindset means that you believe in the power of self-improvement and that you can become a better, cleverer leader, with a fixed mindset, it’s quite the opposite.

Those with a fixed mindset usually react to criticism is a negative and defensive way. On the other hand, those with a growth mindset react positively and see it as an opportunity for learning and growth. This means that those who pursue a growth mindset wholeheartedly do not face self-limiting beliefs in the world of work.

Warning signs that you could be exhibiting a fixed mindset

Say you’re holding an important internal meeting, and you feel that either you or another colleague is being singled out by someone negatively. If you’re facing this situation with a fixed mindset, you’re more likely to engage in what Briceno calls “negative behaviour situations”, including labelling the person or biting back by via aggressive bullying tactics.

On the other hand, a growth mindset individual would attribute this situation, however unpleasant or uncalled for in your opinion, to the context of the meeting in question.

The benefits of exhibiting a growth mindset at work

There are numerous psychological benefits to committing to a growth mindset at work, says Briceno. People who pursue a growth mindset lifestyle at work are less likely to experience depression and tend to have higher levels of resilience. They are more effective learners and can develop better relationships with people.

How to implement a growth mindset culture in your office

It’s up to the company leader to establish a growth mindset culture at work, says Briceno. As the ultimate boss, it’s your responsibility to “create a shared vision of the future for all,” he says. But how can one person create this shared culture? (Well, I guess that’s the million dollar company culture question hanging in the air above most CEOs!) Briceno is here to tell us how to do it:

  • Set up systems that allow employees to do their job better
  • Set up systems that make job operations easier
  • Introduce new systems for learning
  • Onboarding – do you set performance or learning goals?
  • Tell your staff about the learning systems and processes available 

Other things to think about…

  • The highest performers in the world sleep better than other people, and nutrients help us think better, are you setting up systems to aid the bodily health and mental health of your staff?
  • Create a shared company culture vision, set up systems and a positive ‘culture habit’, and establish role model learning

Having a growth mindset in practice – entrepreneurs speak out

But does this top-down implementation of a company-shared growth mindset actually work? Does this military style leadership produce the results we want to see? Is it right that the person at the top makes all the decisions? Here’s what some successful entrepreneurial attendees had to say about the power of exhibiting a growth mindset as a business leader…

Believe that you can do anything: Edwina Dunn, Founder, and CEO, Starcount


Source: Retailweek

My advice for pursuing a growth mindset as a business leader would be to fix yourself on high-level goal over mid-level goals and strategies, we can all get stuck bogged down in the small stuff, but we are leaders, and that’s not our job.

We discovered earlier on as a tiny company working with a multi-billion-dollar company (Tesco), that whilst their demand meant we grew at 100% for 5 years, it sucked in all our talent and resources, and investors soon started to say that we were overly reliant on them. In short, we became a big fish in a small pond.

We then leveraged our partnership with retailers all over the world, and fast. We used what we knew, namely that two people together can do practically everything. I have worked with my husband for thirty years, so I knew that he was the best person I could ever partner with on a business level. Tesco said to us, we don’t understand this leadership model, one person must be accountable. We weren’t surprised by this comment because, in our experience, grocers are very hierarchical. But we stuck to our guns and knew that being expansive in our thinking was going to take us where we wanted to go, as a pair.

Learn to let go: John Stapleton, Co-founder, New Covent Garden Soup Company


Source: The Times

You need to inspire people, and that comes from a position of authenticity. Think about it in this way, everything that’s been done up to now, I’ve done, I started the business, I had the great, and winning idea. But now that I’m leading a growing and successful company I can’t keep doing everything myself. I can’t be good at everything, I need to let my team learn and grow too.

If you employ a bunch of self-starters, the problem is that they all self-start! If you do less, you let people do more, as the founder or CEO, it’s more about setting the direction of your business and inspiring your staff. Motivating the team is a unique and powerful tool that only you can apply. Give them the ability to really understand the consumer and what the consumer wants, and combat any lack of familiarity. When you let go and let your team run with the ideas, it can be a really empowering experience, and that’s where the innovative ideas happen.

Tear up the recruitment manual: Joel Perlman, Co-founder, OakNorth


Source: Specialist Banking

Are you short of time? As a founder or CEO, you probably are. But this is where mistakes can be made at the recruitment level within businesses. Whilst it’s important to asses a candidate’s technical ability and skills, you need to assess their learning disposition and general skill-set too.

How thoughtful are you about the learning process when onboarding staff? How do you quantify success in your company? Is it about having the right kind of ambition? With recruiting let’s tear up the manual and start again from zero. At OakNorth we redesigned the whole process in a few hours and implemented it right away. It’s not about bureaucracy, it’s about the employee having the right initial mindset for us. We don’t have the time to waste time.

If it’s all about self-serving success, then employees won’t care about the company, they’ll just work for their bonuses and leave. As the company leader, your success has to be seen as a by-product of the company’s success. They cannot be separate, otherwise, teams lose motivation and it can go very badly. As the company leader, you need to infuse excitement within your staff body. People get bored with the same old processes, we spend most of our lives at the office, we need to be asking ourselves, how do we make it the most exciting it can be?