By Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN
Sometimes highly committed nurse leader coaches may encounter resistance to establishing a culture of learning. I recently discussed this problem with an L&D. She was hired because there were concerns that unit practices were outdated. This new manager was certified in her specialty area, had gone back for a graduate degree and was active in her professional specialty association. She was surprised to learn that many of her new staff did not share her enthusiasm for professional growth. Several nurses told her that they were there to put in their 12 hours and did not want to be coached to grow professionally. Their previous manager had not pushed them professionally and some staff seemed annoyed that she was setting this as an expectation. This reaction was hard for her to understand because she is a lifelong learner.
Part of the leadership challenge in this situation is helping staff move from a “fixed mindset” to a “growth mindset.” Dr. Carol Dweck, a researcher, and professor at Stanford University has been a pioneer in studying how transformative a growth mindset can be for individuals and overall well-being. A mindset, according to Dweck, is a self-perception or “self-theory” that people hold about themselves. Mindsets can either be growth oriented or fixed.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their skills and abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. In contrast, when the staff has a fixed mindset, they may believe that they can no longer grow professionally. They are less willing to adopt new changes or open themselves to new experiences because it could be threatening.
When you have a growth mindset, you believe that you can and will learn and achieve. A growth mindset results in a powerful belief that anyone can accomplish more if they decide to learn, work, and develop the necessary skills. With a growth mindset, when you fail, you’ll figure out what went wrong and work on making sure it doesn’t happen next time. You don’t write yourself off and are willing to step outside your comfort zone.
Nurse leader coaches can be instrumental in helping staff move from a fixed to a growth mindset. Fixed mindsets often evolve when staff are insecure or have had failures in their past experience. Over time, this new manager can work with her staff using the following strategies:
- Create a new compelling belief about what is possible and how individuals can contribute.
- Reframe failures that happen on the unit as growth experiences.
- Focus and help staff to learn more about their strengths.
- Introduce learning in a fun and non-threatening way.
- Reinforce successes that the individual has in the face of challenges.
- Reward achievements even the small steps.
Change in this situation won’t happen overnight but it can happen with an enthusiastic and positive manager who promotes learning. This manager will also want to consider this when hiring new staff for the unit. A great question to ask to assess the mindset of candidates is “what have you done professionally in the past year to develop new knowledge and skills?”
Read to Lead
Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Penguin Publishers.
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