Although The Grit Project and the new report focus on the importance of grit and growth mindset for women in the legal profession, we believe they are essential to the success of all lawyer leaders! Grit and growth mindset of foundational topics in the Leadership of Self section of our book, as well as in the Leadership of Self segment of our class. Much of our class is spent guiding our students to consider the following as goals in their journey as lawyer leaders:
Make every decision guided by principled values, emphasizing honor and integrity.
Courageously face challenges to get grittier.
See the world with a growth mindset.
Fail gracefully to see the growth potential.
Gain resilience to bounce back higher.
Seek feedback and embrace the process to gain understanding and progress.
Be inclusive as you nurture relationships.
As always, we invite your feedback and welcome your input! Let us know how we can help.
Every presentation we do on growth mindset includes part of a quote from Michael Jordan: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Day 6 of the ABA’s 21 day Grit and Growth Mindset Challenge looks at “The Mindset of a Champion” in which fifth grader Carson Bylow gives a 6 minute TEDxYouth Talk. The talk starts with Jordan’s full quote: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Bylow points out not only the failures Jordan shared but the fact that Jordan actually was cut from his high school basketball team. So, how did Michael Jordan ultimately become the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) in basketball? Growth mindset, grit, and dedication to outworking others.
Bylow acknowledges that he has a growth mindset in some areas and a fixed mindset in others. In his journey to a broader growth mindset, Bylow noted appreciatively a teacher who introduced him to one little three-letter word to help in his battle against fixed mindset: “yet.” Adding “yet” to any self-defeating thoughts or self-talk can change a mindset from one that is ready to give up and go home to one that is invigorated and ready to try again. “Yet” suggests that a different future is possible. “Yet” suggests a new horizon. “Yet” suggests that it is worthwhile to work harder and believe in yourself. The power of “yet” is the power to become more than you are…currently. How can you harness the power of yet when helping students become leaders?
Here is an exercise to try with your students:
Step 1: Give students one to two minutes to think of an area, skill or subject (or more than one, if time permits) where they are disappointed with their performance. You can set the stage for this by sharing one of your own past struggles. In law school, mine was writing. As an accounting major in undergraduate, I scrupulously avoided any electives that required written papers. Shameful, I know! As result, I continued to feel insecure in my writing abilities and missed the valuable opportunity to get better feedback. In fact, my law review article was so bad that my poor editor had to spend many, many long hours over an entire summer to help me get it in publishable condition. I felt worthless and guilty for the trouble I caused my editor. What experience like this can your students identify?
Step 2: Based on their thoughts about areas of weakness, instruct students to pick one or two areas that they think are important or beneficial to their future success. For each, instruct the students to complete this sentence: “I am not good at …”
Step 3: After all the students have had time to write or type one, two or three of those sentences, have them write or type “YET” in big, bold capital letters at the end of each.
Step 4: Next, ask them to assess if they really mean it—if they truly believe this weakness can be improved. If they do not immediately have a sense of hope about the prospects for improvement, have them pause and determine why they are not ready to “buy in.” Why can they not connect to the positivity that comes when recognizing they CAN get better even if they never become a G.O.A.T. Ask them to think about what they could accomplish if they focused positive energy and diligent, deliberate effort to improve. Encourage them to consider the effort as a step toward their future success.
Step 5: Finally, have them write a plan for their work. This could be a good time to introduce the SMART process for setting attainable goals. SMART stands for “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely” and is discussed in Chapter 9, Setting Goals of Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership.
Carson Bylow shared, “Coaches and professional scouts look for athletes who don’t just have skill. They want someone who wants to learn, is coachable, and will give 100% effort in practices. … What they don’t want is someone who thinks they are already good enough, they don’t need to learn, and are not coachable.” The same can be said about what we look for in law students, not only as they learn, but in their future employment as well.
The Power of Yet. Professor Carol Dweck labels Growth Mindset as “the power of yet” because you believe that you can improve. She adds that people with growth mindsets are “luxuriating in the power of yet” while those with a fixed mindset are “gripped in the tyranny of now.”
Both phrases remind us to value and reward effort, strategy and progress as we evaluate our students’ current performance. Helping our students push themselves out of their comfort zones in healthy directions allows them to learn and develop in new ways.
Fear of failure and rejection can often be a barrier to new learning and a growth mindset. In Chapter 7 of Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership, we offer a reflection exercise for students in a leadership class or program designed to help them normalize failure as an acceptable aspect of learning and growing.
You’re Not Perfect and That’s Okay!
Think about a mistake you made in the last couple weeks, preferably one that is not too emotionally charged. It could be anything – a mistake you made while learning something new, maybe you misunderstood the instructions for a task at work and did it incorrectly, or maybe a social faux pas where you said something you wish you hadn’t, or you snapped at someone and regretted it later.
What happened? What were the consequences? Did you have the opportunity to correct the mistake? If so, how did it go and how did it make you feel?
“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.
The past pandemic year has highlighted how much we all need to develop our grit and growth mindset! Making time to develop these skills, however, can be challenging. Where and how do I start?
My first exposure to the formal study of grit and growth mindset was through the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession’s Grit Project. We reference several of their scenarios in our textbookand use them as case studies in our leadership class. On June 2, 2021, the Grit Project is launching a 21-Day Grit and Growth Mindset Challenge. We are planning to participate and hope you will too!
By registering for the challenge, we will receive daily emails with content for the 21 Days of Grit and Growth Mindset Challenge. The challenge consists of a 5-15 minute daily commitment to growing your grit through listening to TED Talks and podcasts or reading articles. The goal: to inspire and help us to “develop good habits to exercise your grit (perseverance and passion for long-term goals) and growth mindset (the belief that you can improve in your abilities).” You can do the daily activities on your own or form a Grit Group to unpack the challenges and learnings together.
The 2021 21-Day Grit and Growth Mindset Challenge kicks off on June 2 with an exciting webinar featuring Alison Levine, mountain climber and grit expert. Register for this inspiring webinar here! If you are ready to start on your own grit and growth jury, though, you do not need to wait for June 2. It’s always a good time to get grittier!