Growing into Success: Navigating Challenges and Pitfalls as a New Team Leader
Cultivating a Growth Mindset to Overcome Resistance, Facilitate Growth, and Unlearn Old Habits
🚀 DEVELOP: Unleashing Potential
As a new team leader, you will face many challenges, chief among them—navigating resistance to change and breaking old habits. Developing a growth mindset, based on the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, can be a helpful mental model in overcoming these challenges. In this post, we will explore how you can cultivate a growth mindset to overcome resistance, guiding and facilitating the unlearning process, to help your team develop and grow. We will also briefly touch upon the potential pitfalls of a growth mindset.
As a new team leader, you’ll need to prepare for the challenges of navigating through volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Or VUCA for short. These variables generally act as the root cause of change which then introduces resistance—after all, change by definition introduces resistance.
To overcome resistance, you, as the team leader, have to embrace and actively plan for resistance. One effective technique is to use pre-mortem exercises, which will help you identify potential obstacles and then help you develop strategies to address said obstacles systematically.
Think of it like a ship captain planning for and then navigating through rough waters. First, you need to chart your path. By using a variety of tools and strategies, such as maps, weather forecasts, and navigational instruments, you chart your course and anticipate obstacles, thinking through triggers that will help you overcome them. The second critical step in the planning stage, and many teams skip this, is to ask yourself, “what if our maps, weather forecasts, and navigational instruments are completely wrong?” or “let’s imagine the worst possible scenarios once we’re out on the water.”
“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
Asking these types of questions strengthens your plan because it is evidence-based and imaginative—giving you a more robust strategy. Now you are better prepared to stay focused on your destination while also adapting to changing conditions and charting a course that avoids obstacles and hazards in real-time. By focusing on what you can control, you can help your team navigate through resistance by planning for it in advance. Learn to love resistance a little and it will be easier for you as a team leader to manage through it.
Unlearning Old Habits
Another significant challenge you will face as you help your team manage through resistance is unlearning old ways of thinking and old ways of doing things. Broadly speaking, unlearning is the ability to let go of old habits and embrace new ideas and approaches. While it can be difficult to facilitate the unlearning process, research shows that it is an essential element in managing through resistance.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” — Alvin Toffler
To help you facilitate the unlearning process, you can use a variety of tools and resources. Facilitating small workshops (like pre-mortems), war-gaming exercises, Red Teaming exercises, etc. are great tools that I have used / use of the many that are out there. Three of my “go-to” resources are Red Team Thinking, "Think Again" by Adam Grant and "Atomic Habits" by James Clear. These resources and books provide evidence-based strategies for breaking bad habits and developing new ones. As a new team leader, focus less on finding the “right” tool, find one that “makes sense” (instinct) for you and then get evidence (data)—put it into practice. Learn. Implement. Adapt. Grow.
And finally, while cultivating a growth mindset is important, it's also essential to avoid potential pitfalls that may hinder growth. One potential pitfall is to focus solely on the outcome or to focus only on the process of improvement. Rather than seeing these as mutually exclusive, it's important to strike a balance between the two.
Think of it like a gardener who wants to cultivate a healthy garden. By focusing solely on the outcome, such as growing a beautiful garden, the gardener may overlook valuable learning opportunities gained via experimentation. On the other hand, focusing solely on the process, such as the right watering schedule or soil type, can also be unproductive and may cause the gardener to lose sight of the ultimate goal. Instead, by striking a balance between the two (process versus outcome), the gardener can identify areas for improvement, track progress, take measured risks, and make iterative adjustments along the way.
[Memo: in a future post I’ll share with you why “starting with the end of mind” may be an outdated construct, especially for Big Things F@$t team leaders.]
Be Mindfully Mindful
While developing a growth mindset can help you and your team navigate through challenges, other factors such as leadership style, organizational culture, and team dynamics will also play a significant role in your success. I.e., a growth mindset alone will not guarantee your success as a new team leader—focus on a few areas that you can control and act on them.
Today, we explored three areas for you to experiment with this week:
Anticipate resistance and ideate triggers to overcome it – use pre-mortem exercises to identify potential obstacles and develop strategies to address them.
Embrace and teach through the resistance, encourage unlearning to embrace a growth mindset – find and use coaching and training programs and techniques to help your team embrace new ways of thinking and doing things. Read and use the techniques in Think Again, Atomic Habits, and Red Team Thinking for example.
Strike a balance between focusing on the process of improvement and the outcome – identify areas for improvement, make them visible, track progress, and make adjustments along the way, then run it again. Maintain a backlog of your experiments.
Like a veteran captain navigating the ever-changing dynamic landscape of the sea, be intentional about the triggers of resistance you ideate before you head out—ask yourself and your crew “what if our assumptions / current data are completely wrong? what would we do then?”
Then like an astute gardener, deftly maneuver the pitfalls of a growth mindset by setting SMART goals, re-branding failure as experimentation, and striking a balance between focusing on the process of improvement and the outcome.
By doing so, you can lead your team to achieve their full potential.