“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.
The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
– Thomas Edison
Following up on our Grit Challenge and as a companion to the ABA’s 21 day Grit and Growth Mindset Challenge (which starts today), we focus on Growth Mindset, one of the five concepts we view as foundational to Leadership of Self. We will address the remaining three: feedback, failure, and resilience in future posts. Grit strengthens students’ persistence in the face of challenges they face in the demands of law school or the practice of law. As their grit improves, they both address challenges and persevere through them with greater aplomb. They likewise learn to apply grit in circumstances beyond school and career. Beyond grit, however, leaders need to learn to take risks.
Our profession is filled with risk-averse lawyers who embrace the status quo and hate to fail or be criticized. They endorse the maxim “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” These characteristics can be protective, helping us serve clients and avoiding unnecessary risk, but those same tendencies reinforce a fixed mindset. Stanford professor Carol Dweck, the leading researcher on mindset, found that a person with a self-view or mindset that their qualities and abilities are fixed or unchangeable will “want to prove [themselves] correct over and over rather than learning from [their] mistakes.”
As we think about law school environment and culture, one can argue that the traditional approaches to legal education promote a fixed mindset since failure is punished and success is rewarded by grades, law review appointments, and ultimately jobs. But a student who never learns to fail—and consequently grow – is a student who may be tempted to cover up mistakes rather than own them. Lawyers who do this may find themselves facing disciplinary action or client ire. These consequences of settling into a fixed mindset heighten the importance of introducing fixed vs. growth mindset theory early in law school and teaching skills to embrace and develop a growth mindset. Helping students lean into a growth mindset both develops their intellectual curiosity and provides a better approach for dealing with adversity in law school and beyond.
Since recognizing the tendency toward a fixed mindset is fundamental to understanding the issue, we begin our coverage of growth mindset by having our students take The Mindset Quiz. We encourage you to do so as well. How “fixed” is your mindset? Next week we will share more about our development techniques for Leadership of Self fundamentals.