With all the media attention lately on teachers and the nation’s classrooms, I invite you to take a look at the greatest classroom of all, life itself.

How is it that some people seem to continually grow, develop their skills and unleash their inherent gifts no matter what life throws at them while others seem stuck and resigned or even bitter about their place in life?

In her landmark book, Mindset, Stanford professor Carol Dweck  offers a provocative finding. Through her research, she identifies two different orientations to life: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

Those people with a fixed mindset believe that their capabilities – intellectual, emotional and physical — are fixed early on in life. You either have the natural talent or you don’t. And you do the best you can with what you have been given. Life provides a series of challenges where you either prove yourself worthy or have your weaknesses exposed.

Those with a growth mindset believe that life challenges offer a stream of opportunities for development and growth. We can develop every aspect of ourselves; even those emotional capabilities that we label “our personality” can be strengthened throughout our lives. Every setback contains a lesson; every triumph points to the next stretch target. For those with a growth mindset, failure does not indict; it illuminates. Taking risks is important to learning.


Failure is a teacher, not a judge


In the fixed mindset you are always concerned with how you are being judged. In the growth mindset, you are primarily concerned with what you are learning. Each mindset generates a very different mood regarding mistakes and risks. For those with the fixed mindset, mistakes are to be avoided or covered up at all costs; they expose your shortcomings. Risks are to be minimized. You only declare goals publicly that you already know how to achieve; only ask questions for which you already know the answer. The key is to maintain your image.

For the person with a growth mindset, mistakes are essential to learning what works; to developing resilience during setbacks and courage to chart new territory where no maps exist. If you are not making mistakes, you are not stretching; only repeating yourself. Growth mindset people love provocative questions more than simple answers. They welcome disruption as a gateway to innovation.


Exuberance and the growth mindset are partners


Mood and mindset work together. Your mood as a leader generates the culture of your organization. It creates a climate that affects the performance of everyone in your orbit.

The fixed mindset leader says, “My moods are just part of the way I’m wired. I am who I am. Deal with it”.

The growth mindset leader says, “Mastery of my moods can be developed like any other leadership skill. It is my responsibility to learn how to use my mood to inspire everyone else. To foster a culture where people love what they do and hold nothing back. Where everyone is growing and getting better every day.”

Exuberance is a love affair with life. One of the pay-offs of the growth mindset is the ability to love both the peaks and the dips of life. Every setback is a chance to learn something new about yourself; to develop more resilience and courage. Every triumph is a chance to celebrate and be grateful.


Nothing to prove and always more to learn


Do you love a new challenge?

Do you get a thrill (after the chill) from operating outside your comfort zone?

Are you willing to get past the “big gulp” in your throat in order to stretch?

Are you energized by “playing the game” at higher and higher levels?


Yes? Then you are already a student in the Greatest Classroom, my friends.

Not yet? Then jump in, the company is great, and the water is fine.