TL;DR (But You Should Read It To Grow Your Mind - BYSRIT-GYM): Get ready to delve into the fascinating world of Growth Psychology. In this article, I'll explore how understanding human behaviour and mindset can enhance your leadership and contribute to your company's success. Discover key psychological insights that can help create a thriving culture, promote innovation, and drive long-term growth, from embracing the growth mindset to leveraging relational theory. If you're curious about the psychological aspects of leadership and organisational development, this article is your starting point. In my 16-year whirlwind tour of the tech start-up and scale-up universe, I've transitioned from being a hands-on contributor to leading growth, marketing, and product teams. Through the ups, downs, and invaluable learning opportunities, I've had the privilege of collaborating with hundreds of remarkable individuals in both less-than-optimal and fantastic organisations. But here's the plot twist: beneath my tech-savvy exterior lies a sort of "secret weapon". I'm a trained and certified psychologist, and it's not just for kicks – it has profoundly enriched both my professional and personal life.
Recently, while dispensing growth advice to tech scale-ups and mentoring the next-gen growth leaders, I've noticed something intriguing. There's a sneaky not-so-little need out there. It's the need to focus more on the psychology of the talented folks powering and delivering company growth and the overall psyche of the organisations we craft. Think of it as our behind-the-scenes superhero, minus the capes (for safety reasons).
When we talk about company growth and leadership, it's not just about quick hacks and fixes or the marketing whiz kids. We need to embrace growth as a complex human operating system. It's a fusion of structure, strategy, culture, and the often-overlooked Growth Psychology that supports all that. It's like the missing piece of the puzzle, and it's a game-changer for long-term success. While AI is cool, it can't replace the charm of experienced growth-oriented leadership (yet). Plus, you have to truly, madly, deeply understand it (cue old-school music reference – don't judge my taste, I promise I am more of a rock chick!).
In a series of upcoming articles, I aim to shed light on Growth Psychology, as I firmly believe that a deeper and holistic understanding of this field arms us with a people-first superpower that is directly connected to sustainable positive company outcomes. This superpower helps our products to grow and our people to find happiness, engagement, diversity, and unwavering motivation in their work.
What's the Deal with Growth Psychology?
It's like a secret sauce for personal, organisational, and company success. Think of it as the magic wand that helps you conquer challenges, learn from failures, and become a better, faster, and smarter leader and manager of others.
At the heart of Growth Psychology is the "growth mindset," a concept originated from the research of Carol Dweck. It's all the rage these days, and for a good reason. It's about embracing challenges, learning from failures, and becoming a more evolved version of ourselves.
For start-up founders, CMOs, CGOs, CPOs (Product and People), CFOs, and emerging leaders, Growth Psychology is your trusty sidekick. It helps you hit those revenue targets while maintaining a psychologically safe environment (Harvard Business School Professor Amy C. Edmondson coined the term in the ‘90s and the idea went mainstream in 2012 when Google’s Project Aristotle identified psychological safety as a key component in successful teams).
With psychological safety, a growth mindset, self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-improvement, you'll lead your team to reach their full potential. You'll spot innovation opportunities that align perfectly with your company's vision.
Culture Eats Strategy... But Who’s Cooking?
You’ve probably heard the famous quote attributed to Peter Drucker that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast,’ or the less famous but super interesting one by Safi Bahcall that ‘structure eats culture for lunch.’ Well, both are extremely precious reflections, but someone needs to make sure that all these fellow diners have tasty and healthy food on the table not two but ideally three times a day, every week for the rest of their lives. That’s where Growth Psychology comes in - it helps us be the best possible leaders that know how to set the right structure that sustains the best culture that supports the most competitive strategy and its execution so as to achieve our long-term growth objectives. In other words, Growth Psychology is like a master chef who ensures that everyone at the table is well-fed, full of energy, and satisfied.
The Ingredients of Growth Psychology: A Recipe for Success
Here's the recipe for boosting your company’s results, sustainably:
Self-awareness: Get to know yourself better than your favourite comfort food.
Self-acceptance: Embrace your strengths and weaknesses like they're your quirkiest family members.
Self-improvement: Develop new skills for personal and professional growth.
Growth mindset: Embrace challenges and learn from failure to foster resilience and innovation, turning obstacles into stepping stones.
To support all of the above, various sub-disciplines of psychology can be employed:
Behavioural psychology: A theory of learning based on the idea that all behaviours are acquired through conditioning, basically understanding how habits and behaviours form (late-night cookie cravings not included).
Cognitive psychology: Dives into the world of thoughts, motivations, and all that brainy stuff. Focused on internal states such as motivation, problem-solving, decision-making, thinking, and attention.
Transactional Analysis: Breaks down human interactions and communication into ego states (Parent, Adult, Child). Understanding how these states interact leaders can improve communication, avoid misunderstandings, and foster a growth-focused environment.
Humanistic psychology: Emphasises the fundamental goodness of human beings and concentrates on personal growth and development.
Psychodynamic psychology: Explores the depths of your unconscious mind. Examines the concepts that shape our emotions, attitudes, and personalities.
Developmental psychology: Studies how individuals develop physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially throughout their lifespan. In short, it charts the course of growth from birth to retirement (and beyond!).
Motivation theories: Find out what makes us tick and chase our dreams.
Relational psychology: Focuses on the study of relationships and how they impact personal and professional growth.
Attachment theory: Examine emotional bonds and how they shape us and how early attachments can leave a lasting mark on our lives.
Identity economy theory: Pertains to the idea that individuals are increasingly defining themselves through their work and career choices. Aligning work with personal values enhances motivation and long-term performance.
Organisational psychology: Dives into the behaviour of our fellow humans in the workplace. Here, Growth Psychology can be applied to organisational psychology to help individuals and organisations achieve long-term sustainable growth.
So, Why Should You Care?
By becoming more aware of and integrating these components, techniques, and theories into your growth operating system and, specifically, into your growth-oriented leadership style with your employees and within your organisation, you can achieve improvements in personal and professional development, innovation, creativity, employee engagement and motivation, operational efficiency, and ultimately revenue growth.
Growth Psychology is kind of a big deal, and here's why:
Personal and professional development: adopting growth psychology techniques helps you grow, learn, and become better. For example, a study by the University of Pennsylvania found that students who completed a growth mindset intervention had higher GPAs (Grade Point Average) than those who did not.
Innovation and creativity: Growth psychology can help organisations innovate and adapt to changing market conditions.
Employee engagement and motivation: you could make your team happier and more motivated. For example, a study by Gallup found that employees who received regular growth-oriented feedback from their managers were more engaged than those who did not.
Operational efficiency: you can boost your company's productivity, thanks to the power of positivity. For example, a study by the University of Warwick found that happy employees were 12% more productive than their unhappy counterparts.
Revenue growth: If you want those numbers to soar, Growth Psychology can make it happen. For example, a study by Deloitte found that companies with a strong sense of purpose outperformed their peers in terms of revenue growth.
Adapting faster as a leader to our customers via life centricity (95% of executives say their customers are evolving faster than their businesses can adapt): this is a business approach that requires deep understanding and adaptation to the multifaceted aspects of customers' lives, fostering relevance and driving growth. Life centricity has been linked through research to impact growth, for example:
Businesses focused on life centricity are three times more likely to surpass peers in speed-to-market and almost five times more likely in customer lifetime value.
Companies leading in life centricity are predicted to outperform lagging peers by nine percentage points annually in growth rate. This can mean a difference of gaining $4 billion in new revenues over five years for a $10 billion company, versus shrinking by $1 billion in the same timeframe.
However, understanding the multi-dimensional aspects of an individual's life should start within the organisation itself. To truly embed life centricity in your scale-up, it's pivotal to first adopt this approach for your internal customers - namely your employees and direct reports. Before seeking to understand and cater to the complexities of external customers' lives, leaders must first deeply grasp the intricacies of their team members' lives. Utilising disciplines like growth psychology aids in this understanding, providing insight into the motivations, challenges, and aspirations of your internal teams. If leaders fail to comprehend and respond to the multifaceted nature of their employees' lives, it becomes increasingly challenging to authentically, systematically, and sustainably extend the same level of understanding and adaptation via a new business and operating model to external customers. In essence, a genuine life-centric approach begins at home – within the organisation – laying the foundation for its broader, market-facing applications.
Now, the (multi) million-dollar question is: how do we, as leaders, consciously and systematically act on all of these aspects?
By methodically implementing growth psychology techniques into your product, amongst your employees (and customers!) and organisation, you can achieve significant improvements in all of the above aspects and ultimately your growth.
Systematising growth psychology within your company’s leadership style and your org psyche and for yourself as a leader means also learning to constantly ask yourself the deeper and most uncomfortable questions. Applying cognitive, psychodynamic, and transactional techniques to uncover the whys behind dysfunction or behind an improvable situation will benefit your team performance and morale.
An example from one of my growth advisory jobs.
Context: I was hired as a growth advisor to help a fast-growing b2c tech scale-up review their growth strategy and structure.
Challenge: Pivotal projects were consistently lagging, with delays becoming a frequent occurrence, particularly in the teams managed by Carol, the VP of Growth.
Traditional Leadership Approach: A typical leadership response would have been to impose tighter deadlines, increase resources, or even reshuffle team members in an attempt to boost productivity. The focus would have been predominantly on the output and operational challenges without diving deeper into the underlying interpersonal dynamics and emotional landscapes. Worth sharing that agile and lean start-up methodologies were already adopted by this company.
Growth Psychology-Enhanced Leadership Approach: During our mentorship sessions with Carol, we delved into the possible deeper psychological dynamics behind the team's issues. By employing cognitive and psychodynamic techniques, Carol was trained to lead open dialogues, fostering environments for active listening and reflection. Additionally, we explored concepts of psychological safety and attachment theory to unravel the subtle nuances of team member interactions, identifying patterns of anxiety, avoidance, and feelings of insecurity.
Cognitive Techniques: Carol and I facilitated sessions utilising cognitive reframing, a tool I had previously emphasised during our mentorship. We asked the team to reinterpret challenges from multiple vantage points, steering them away from entrenched negative thought cycles. Instead of mulling over "Why can't we meet our targets?", the team pondered, "What barriers might we be overlooking that, if addressed, could propel us forward?"
Psychodynamic Techniques: Embracing psychodynamic insights, Carol initiated open dialogues, giving team members a platform to vocalise their feelings without judgement. A recurring sentiment was that some newer members hesitated to share innovative ideas, feeling overshadowed by long-standing employees. This pointed towards a latent hierarchy and unconscious bias stifling creativity.
Relational Techniques: Carol championed relational exercises like active listening sessions. Team members were paired to share personal experiences related to work adversities, cultivating mutual respect and understanding.
Psychological Safety Exploration: Delving deeper, Carol sensed an underlying issue of psychological safety. Many team members, especially the quieter ones, felt vulnerable voicing opinions, fearing ridicule or backlash. By fostering an environment where members could speak openly without fear of retribution, Carol nurtured a setting ripe for collaborative problem-solving.
Attachment Theory Insights: Drawing from attachment theory, Carol identified patterns of anxiety and avoidance in team dynamics. Some members were anxious about their roles, constantly seeking validation, while others appeared detached, not fully committing to collaborative efforts. Recognizing these patterns, Carol implemented mentorship programs pairing anxious members with more secure counterparts and established clear communication lines ensuring that avoidant members felt connected and integral to the team.
Findings and Improvements: Through these sessions (that happened over the course of roughly 3 months), Carol discovered a latent hierarchy and unconscious biases that blocked creativity and innovation. She also identified that quieter team members felt vulnerable and were hesitant to voice opinions. By recognising attachment patterns, Carol initiated mentorship programs and clearer communication channels. She implemented structures that nurtured psychological safety, ensuring every member felt secure voicing ideas and concerns.
Impact and Translation to Company Growth: The revamped environment led to a substantial improvement in team dynamics. Members were more collaborative, innovative ideas flowed more freely, and the overall morale skyrocketed. With these enhanced team dynamics, project completion rates improved dramatically. The team was not only more efficient but also more innovative, proposing solutions that would have remained untapped in a less inclusive environment. This internal shift had a direct impact on this scale-up's growth trajectory, with accelerated project timelines over the upcoming months, improved growth initiatives quality, and a heightened understanding of customer needs, solidifying the company's position in the market.
There are plenty of dysfunctional leadership examples out there from which we should learn (I will share quite a few, do not worry!). I firmly believe that we can learn much faster from dysfunction than from function, and having a growth psychological substrate to support our leadership will go a long way in unlocking more sustainable growth opportunities amongst the talent we have.
Ready to Dive into the Intriguing World of Growth Psychology?
Ever wondered how feedback can fuel long-term success in your scale-up or why happy employees are 12% more productive? 🌟
Have you considered the powerful impact of work (and romantic) relationships on personal and professional growth, or how aligning your values can supercharge motivation and performance? 💼
Curious about what makes your data analyst moody, your ads manager punctuality-challenged, your country manager a constant dissenter or your manager an axxhole? 🤔
Eager to empower your teams to take bold risks and explore uncharted territories but not sure how? 🌄
Interested in how cultural influences shape happiness within your scale-up or why companies with a clear purpose outperform the rest in revenue growth? 🌎
Looking for the secret sauce to keep your team motivated and engaged, without burning out? ☕
Ever thought about building trust through vulnerability and attachment theory? Or aligning your values and goals for a more satisfying and fulfilling work experience? 🤝
And what exactly does it mean to be an authentic leader in the fast-paced, money-driven tech world? 🚀
I’m excited to share some more articles ahead, where I’ll be discussing people’s stories and insights that demonstrate the value of Growth Psychology. If you’re interested in learning more about how to foster innovation, drive sustainable growth, and embrace a culture of guidance, please stay tuned. I would also love to hear your thoughts, questions, or superhero origin stories (via a direct message or in the comments). Please let me know what problems are most relevant to you.
I hope this helps!
Some References for Further Reading:
Dweck, C.S., & Leggett, E.L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality.
Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., & Kelly, D.R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals.
The book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck.