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How successful developers practice a growth mindset


How might an engineer reframe their thinking to see a challenging situation as an opportunity for growth? 

“I just can’t take any more changes! I was on one project for two months, now I’m on another one for only a month. I just want stability.” 

In a recent conversation between a culture coach and a top performer, the coaching session went like so many others: A senior developer ​​learned to create their own stability, instead of waiting for it to come to them by circumstance. I could feel his wheels turning.

Instead of feeling upset that the circumstances were not what he wanted them to be, he began to become curious about the actions he could take to allow him to perform at his best. 

“Maybe I could focus on the quality of my code? And I always feel better when I am working out regularly.” As the conversation continued, we mapped out a plan to create stability and routines for him that would allow him to take responsibility for his own internal sense of peace.

Different mindsets

Growth mindset

A growth mindset is how much you believe your basic qualities, like intelligence and talent, can be developed.

Related: Enneagram for devs: Uncover core motivation, boost growth

Fixed mindset

A fixed mindset is how much you believe your basic qualities are permanent. No one intends to go out into the world with a fixed mindset. It’s something that slowly creeps in on us. We get comfortable, we settle into a team, a project, a company and we slowly shift into thinking we can keep using the same solutions for every problem.

When we have a fixed mindset we surrender our power, believing that life is happening to us rather than through us. When life happens to you, there is not much incentive to do anything differently.

Entitled & victim mindset

Entitlement and victim mentality kills innovation. We rest on our laurels, which impacts our effectiveness for our team and client, but it also alters our brains. We think our past achievements will be enough to help us through future scenarios. The real danger with entitlement though is the way it is linked to a victim mindset.

An entitled mind is passive rather than active. It tries to protect what it has rather than moving forward into building something new. One of the things that is tied to personal happiness and satisfaction is a sense of growth and forward movement. When we slip into this victim mentality, we start feeling stuck, stagnant, and powerless. 

When we are less committed to how it’s always been done and more committed to inquiring, is this process still serving us, it allows us to be agile about our processes as we prioritize outcomes. 

Avoiding entitlement

Every time I check in with one of my developers I begin with an inquiry:

  • What is your feedback process like?
  • How do you organize your sprints?
  • Who is involved with ticket prioritization?

After I get their answers, my next questions are:

  • Is this working for you?
  • What is the impact, for better or worse, on the team and your desired outcomes?
  • Does this approach still make sense? 

When we make decisions based on what worked in the past, we are essentially asleep at the wheel. We often miss the current situation and jump over the evaluation process that requires us to take a look at verifiable data to drive our decisions rather than tradition or a previously established process. 

Here are three ways to kick start yourself out of an entitled victim mindset into a more empowered one:

1. Control your attention

What we focus our attention on creates our reality. If we think about all the things outside our control, it will feel like EVERYTHING is outside our control. If we adjust our attention and let ourselves see both what is outside AND what is within our control, it gives a more accurate picture of reality and helps us identify what kinds of actions we can take to improve the situation.

2. Take responsibility for outcomes

Working hard is a great skill, but a sneaky way entitlement can show up is to believe that because we work hard, we deserve something, when in reality if all our hard work doesn’t actually get results or add value, it’s not truly impacting the outcome.

Taking responsibility for outcomes shifts our perspective from effort ALONE to effort + results.

3. Self-evaluate regularly

Take time once a month or once a quarter to evaluate your effectiveness. A good place to start is to ask:

  • What is the outcome I most want to see?
  • What actions contribute to that outcome?
  • How effective and consistent am I in taking those actions?
  • Are there any actions I’m not taking?
  • Where should I shift my energy or attention to be more empowered, autonomous and effective in my role?

When we take radical responsibility for the outcomes in our lives it creates power, purpose and freedom. We are less likely to slip into entitlement, we are less likely to feel that stuck, stagnant, victimhood and in the end, we will find our ability to contribute to innovation and lead our lives forward to be greatly heightened.

Read next: 5 ways to build trust with engineering managers