It drives me crazy when I meet people who have a litany of excuses for their failures, especially when these are of the "not my fault" type.
Those who make such excuses seem to fail repeatedly, almost as though they are cursed with the worst luck in the world. Life seems to be an endless string of setbacks, all of which are out of their control. If only they could catch a break!
Dr. Carol Dweck, author of "Mindset", argues that many such individuals have a fixed mindset that has them believing their abilities and intelligence are pre-ordained, such that trying harder and learning from mistakes are largely wastes of time. Dr. Dweck and others have shown definitively through their research that intelligence can be improved.
Having an open mindset (realizing that one's abilities and intelligence truly can be improved) allows failures to be seen as proof that improvement is needed, with the real challenge being figuring out how to self-improve so that the setback is overcome. This isn't to say that anyone can do anything, but few of us really know our true potential for growth.
Related to this is the concept of responsibility. Those with an open mindset both believe in and take responsibility for self-improvement, so that setbacks are overcome. "I can't do it" becomes "I can't do it yet, but I will".
Taking responsibility means accepting personal control of one's self-improvement, regardless of why the latest setback occurred. It's not that they won't accept help, but rather that their conviction that improvement is possible is matched with the understanding that success is in their hands.
The best growth comes to those who realize they are empowered to self-improve. Knowing they can take reasonable risks, fail, and improve without shame is both invigorating and empowering. With this comes intrinsic motivation, much more effective for improving performance than hounding or directives from others.
What does all this psycho babble mean for business owners?
- Don't accept patterns of repeated failure at the same task, unless the employee has significant physical limitations to what they can do. Beyond that, respond to failures by encouraging and enabling employees to improve and grow. Don't accept that anyone is at their limit of ability or intelligence.
- Reward real effort, not just success. Don't excuse failure by saying "good effort", unless the effort truly was good. Don't accept excuses that failure was due to circumstances beyond the person's control, unless they truly were.
- Don't reward success achieved without effort. Although controversial, this has been shown repeatedly to encourage people to willingly take on only those tasks where they have a low risk of failure (i.e., a low chance of improving by learning from mistakes). Rather, only celebrate success when it results from a combination of ability and effort. Think about this when setting goals.
- Empower your employees to take moderate risks. Accept failure as a reminder of the need for coaching, training, and practice, rather than proof of somebody's low intelligence. Don't berate failure, but be sure to point out whenever you see that it resulted from low effort.
- Above all, remember the path to sustained success is through continuous learning and growth, not by relying on natural abilities. Nobody stays on top for long by only looking for continued easy wins. Cultivate a growth mindset for your company.