Monday, February 15, 2021

Employee Performance Depends, in part, on Leader Mindset

Source: Wikimedia

Katherine Muenks and her co-authors have published a fascinating article titled, "Does My Professor Think My Ability Can Change? Students’ Perceptions of Their STEM Professors’ Mindset Beliefs Predict Their Psychological Vulnerability, Engagement, and Performance in Class."  In my view, this paper about teaching and learning has very important implications for leadership, employee engagement, and employee productivity.   

The authors studied student perceptions about their professors' mindsets.  Did the instructor have a growth mindset (everyone can improve with the right effort, coaching, etc.) or a fixed mindset (individuals have a fixed level of ability in a particular discipline)?  Through a series of studies, the scholars show that student perceptions about the professor's mindset matters a great deal.  If students perceived that the faculty member believed in each person's ability to grow and develop his or her skills, then those students were more engaged. Moreover, they performed better in the class. The scholars go further though.  They write:

"Across all studies, we controlled for students’ personal mindset beliefs and found that, even while controlling for these personal beliefs, students’ perceptions of their professors’ mindset beliefs predicted their anticipated and experienced psychological vulnerability in class. In other words, students’ perceptions of what powerful people in the environment (e.g., their professors) believe about intelligence predict students’ psychological experiences and performance in that environment—regardless of what students themselves personally believe about intelligence...

Importantly, in Study 4, we were able to control for students’ general perceptions of how warm or competent their professor was. These analyses largely demonstrate that the associations of perceived professor mindset on students’ psychological experiences in class are not simply a function of how friendly or competent they perceive their professor to be."

In short, the professor's mindset mattered, even after controlling for the student's own mindset!  Moreover, the effect on student performance did not hinge on perceptions about the warmth or competence of the professor.  

What's the implication for business leaders?  I would argue that employees are also evaluating and judging their managers.  They are ascertaining whether that leader has a growth or a fixed mindset.  They will more engaged, more invested in their work and their own personal development, and more productive if their leaders display a growth mindset.   

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