Willingness to Learn_Growth Mindset_3x5 Leadership

Inherent to leader development and many of the posts on 3×5 Leadership is the idea that we are all continuously growing and developing our leader capacities. This, then, assumes that leadership is a learned ability and not really a natural trait that we are or are not born with. In my leadership roles within the organizations I serve, I routinely assert that a major goal for my leader development programs is to inspire peoples’ commitment to being life-long learners.

So, how exactly do we approach developing this attitude of and passion for learning leadership? I argue that we must differentiate one’s ability to learn from their willingness to. According to The Center for Creative Leadership’s Leader Development Model, one’s ability to learn from experience is a complex combination of motivational factors, personality factors, and learning tactics; it is one’s cognitive ability and achieved skill of efficiently receiving new knowledge. This is different from a willingness to learn, or what is called a “growth mindset,” which is a term popularized by Carol Dweck in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. A growth mindset, one’s willingness to learn, is understanding that intelligence and leadership ability is not fixed, but can be gained, and they see learning as valuable in itself. People with growth mindsets commit to learning and are willing to take responsible risks in order to improve.

Inspiring a Growth Mindset

We can create the most powerful and robust leader development programs ever seen in our organizations, but without that growth mindset, all this development falls on deaf ears and unwilling hearts. So, how do we then develop and inspire a growth mindset and willingness to learn in our people? Below I offer five simple considerations to foster others’ willingness to learn. Ultimately, however, I want to hear from you and other readers; I want to turn this into a community of practice conversation where we learn great ideas from other leader developers. I certainly don’t have all of the answers on this topic and I would love to hear from you about how you have successfully inspired your people to commit to learning leadership. Find out the ways you can contribute to the conversation at the bottom of this post!

  • You must model a growth mindset as the leader and be the example to follow. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it, and share what you learned from that experience. Also share ways you are committing to your own learning, such as from your personal professional reading, what you are learning from those efforts, and how it is making you and the organization better. Finally, when you and your people have shared experiences such as a training or project, show them that you are also learning from those events even if you have had similar experiences multiple times before; show that we are all always learning.
  • Appropriately structure your feedback. Ensure your feedback focuses on the effort and process, not just on the results, and certainly not on the person. Make feedback a dialogue and include them in the discussion. Also align organizational recognition, celebrations, and rewards toward learning and growth, not merely on performance or results.
  • Purposefully include preparation and reflection. Preparation and reflection must be the bookends to every experience we have, and ones we offer our people. Deliberately incorporate dedicated time and effort towards you and your people preparing before and reflecting after an experience. Creating these learning opportunity windows allows their minds to orient toward learning and growing.
  • Identify performance and learning goals. When creating organizational goals, obviously create performance goals that you want to achieve; your organization exists to succeed and/or have an impact. However, in addition to that, establish collective learning goals so that your people have something to stimulate their commitment to growing and developing. Create these learning goals together with your people so they have buy-in and commitment to those goals.
  • Replace failing with learning. Words mean things and you should use precise words precisely. Simple language adjustments will impact how your people view learning from challenges and/or failure. In instances of failure by your people, ensure you balance necessary challenge and accountability with support; help that person or group learn from and make sense of their experience.

Join the Conversation!

Below are the four ways you can join the conversation on developing a growth mindset and a willingness to learn in others. I encourage you to share your thoughts as we all can learn from one another to help others commit to learning.

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  1. Josh, could not agree more. A couple thoughts on inspiring willingness to learn. First, we have to balance learner-centric with organizational-centric. Too often we focus all our leader development on what we, the organization, want our subordinates to learn and not enough effort on what our subordinates believe they need to learn. So, we have to engage our subordinates early and often in the training and education design process. Ask them what they believe they need to know and then figure out how to incorporate both organizational and individual requirements into the leader development program. Then, enlist subordinates in the actual development of the training and leader development. Those that help create training are far more motivated to partake in it and start thinking about ways they can make future leader development even better.

    1. Sir, thanks for the support and for your thoughts! I completely agree. This really leads me to think about goal-setting at the collective and individual level. We don’t do that well: setting them and maintaining a strategy to accomplish them. Goals don’t have to be just performance either. Leaders could and should lead their organizations and individuals with learning goals.

      Thanks again!

  2. Make “Share Lesson Learned” part of your command philosophy… encourage part of Teamwork is learning from one another. Reward and encourage those that share.

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