By Laurie Cure, Ph.D.

We often joke that my son is full of random information. At our last team meeting, our conversation diverted to the The Great Emu War of Australia (who even knew) and the question surfaced again, “how do you know this stuff?” 

An excited phone call this week revealed the answer. When skimming Reddit and reading a post about grilled cheese sandwiches, the comments led him to “follow the trail of mercury”.  This quest revealed that the Lewis and Clarke expedition took Mercury laced pills for a variety of health ailments and the mercury they left behind can be traced in their waste all along the path of their journey. 

As interesting as that is, the moral of my story is not about mercury or Lewis and Clark. The lesson for you is how to build a spirit of learning in yourself and others. As a leader, how might you embrace an approach that encourages you and your team to keep moving down the path of learning, expansion and growth. 

Our workplaces are changing rapidly and a learning mindset will allow you to maintain a competitive edge as we adapt to shifting environments. There are a great deal of reasons why organizations don’t learn and grow. However, leaders with the right mindset put practices into place to ensure their growth and they teach and help others do the same in order to perform more effectively. Building a learning mindset can be done with attention and effort placed on the following 5 tips.

1. Build critical thinking skills

We all THINK, but critical thinking requires a precise combination of observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem solving, and decision making. Reading that list explains why thinking at deeper levels is challenging. It demands a great deal from us. With the vast amount of misinformation or partial truths that exist in our world, building this skill is becoming more and more important. Leaders must question assumptions. Teachers must build problems solving competencies, and we all need to consider decision making methodologies that reduce biases of thought and enhance well reasoned thinking. 

We can build these skills in our business processes by questioning data and information and looking deeper into cause and effect. Asking questions and evaluating evidence  supports better conclusions. Additionally, consider the opposing perspective and what it teaches you. 

2. Cultivate a growth mindset. 

A growth mindset comes with the belief that failure and challenge result in learning, that feedback is imperative for development and that trying and practicing new things supports success. Intelligence can be taught and optimism carries us forward. Without it, we remain stuck in undesirable circumstances. How you view the world matters. We have the power to create our own realities and change them if desired.

Fostering a growth mindset in your teams requires leaders to place a high value on learning by supporting yours and your employees development. Strong teams capitalize on failures, and are open to feedback to improve their behavior, processes and decision making.

3. Embrace multiple perspectives

Embracing various ways of thinking and bringing forth individual experiences enhances both our decision making and our learning. This includes incorporating  multicultural, racial,  generational, personality, and gender lenses into our thoughts, beliefs and judgements.. It requires us to value and bring forth the lessons from each of these points of view and also merge various experiences and educational backgrounds. 

When diversity of thought is championed in the workforce, all of these aspects of who we are can offer significant contributions to team outcomes and organizational success. Yet we often resist environments that bring diversity and multiple perspectives forward. 

Why? Generally, because it can be difficult, time consuming and requires emotional intelligence and leadership skills that are often underdeveloped in organizations. Leaders who are skilled in embracing multiple viewpoints ensure their teams are comprised of diverse individuals in the categories above. They facilitate conversations that allow for different perspectives to emerge and they incorporate these frames of reference into their decision making. 

4. Reduce bias

We cannot achieve the benefit of the above if we fail to recognize and address our own biases. We all have them and they often serve an important purpose in our life. They can help keep us safe or allow us to make quick choices when needed. More often, however, they can get in our way of advancing a learning mindset. 

Here are a few types of biases that prevent learning and growth. 

  • With anchoring bias, we believe and rely heavily on the first piece of information we hear and all other information is judged based on that initial “anchor”. Alternatively, recent bias leads us to rely more heavily on the most recent information in front of us. As leaders, both are risky as it can cause us to not assess additional data based on incomplete or erroneous anchors. A learning mindset allows us to recognize the information and take it into consideration equally with new and historic information.  
  • Group think promotes members of the team to align their thinking around a popular opinion or the majority opinion. When leaders move too quickly to adopt a question that seems well supported, they risk not critically evaluating the alternatives, dangers and possibilities
  • Confirmation bias is a common unconscious bias that permeates not only our workplaces but our culture. It causes us to seek out information that confirms what we already believe to be true. We witness this bias with COVID-19 information, politics, parenting and leadership. One of the best strategies to consider in mitigating confirmation bias is to actively seek information that might support an alternative viewpoint. While your initial perspective might be correct, this learning technique forces you to integrate new information in a dynamic way. 
  • Stereotyping is one of the most common biases and we are all guilty of holding and perpetuating inaccurate beliefs about others based on gender, race, generation or personality. Breaking stereotype bias requires that we actively seek to understand others, deeper our self awareness and judgements . 

Building self-awareness of your biases and actively working to reduce them. Is a critical step in opening the door for learning. It ensures we objectively see a broad piece of data and information and incorporate that, without harmful filters, into our decision making and leadership behaviors. 

Following the trail of mercury is all about going deeper along the path and continuing to allow each step to take you into more and more learning and knowledge. While the facts might seem irrelevant at the time, the learning mindset you support in the process will serve you immeasurably.