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Servant hood, growth mindset and fixed mindset: where servanthood mentality can create freedom for leaders.

I am currently reading a book about ‘mindset’ – [affiliate link]. Basic premise is that you can have a fixed or growth mindset concerning a part of your life. You can have fixed in one, and growth in another, so it’s not all black and white, and you can change. In fact if you would like to have a growth mindset and you have a fixed mindset in one area then you can use how you know you approach your area in which you have growth mindset and apply it to the area of fixed mindset.

So which is better? The author contends that a growth mindset is better. That said she doesn’t push the subject and say you must choose growth mindset, just that people in that mindset tend to be happier. In the end, she says, the book is about telling you that you have a choice and if you wish you can make that choice, you aren’t limited.

So, from what I can understand, let me attempt to describe the two. In the book I linked to above, there are multiple examples to help get the reader to understand the difference and the impact of both from research and sociological observation and experiment, so this is only going to be brief.

What is fixed mindset?

Fixed mindset is setting a limit and a goal.  Everything is about achieving that standard, and everything that falls short of that standard is a fail.

What is the impact of fixed mindset on life

Whilst it is perhaps good to have a target and so on, the fixed mindset has a couple of major affects I see in some areas of my own life. First, everything that is not a success therefore is deemed a failure, making you feel terrible and self-critical. It means you are less able to take criticism from others as it hurts more than perhaps it needs to.

Secondly a fixed mindset person will then try to blame everything on other contributing factors. It was the time of day. Illness. The questions asked. Everything but actually there was something that needed working on.

The upshot of all this is a fixed mindset person will then not attempt anything where they risk failure.  They always want to appear competent.

What is growth mindset

Interestingly there does seem more space devoted to explaining the limitations of a fixed mindset. Maybe because the growth mindset is something opposite. Obvious really.

In a growth mindset you still have targets, but the element of success is measured by the effort rather than the results.  It’s all about the journey.

What is the impact?

When there is criticism, the growth mindset person will seek to see what changes need to be made. Where can they improve and make changes? Rather than a stick to be beaten with, not achieving a target or having feedback is seen as a carrot and the new opportunity to grow even more.  To discover something new.

There is responsibility taken for things that don’t work out because there is no fear in feeling a failure.

This means there is a sense of happiness and always wanting to work hard not to be the best and experiencing failure, but rather enjoying the fact that you are growing. And also having the confidence to undertake something that has a high possibility of not succeeding.

Theology of all this…

So I bring my own thinking to this.

First, I wonder if part of the problem is how we interpret scripture. So we see the 10 commandments with a sense of fixed mindset. Fail, and you are a worthless sinner. Forgetting the space that Jesus gives us in grace.  Fixed mindset is the third character in the parable of the talents. It is the Jonah thinking – Ninevah can never change.

But Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus brings change.

What of servant hood vs leadership which is not servant hood?

To be a leader takes a certain character, and I often imagine a whole load of people scrambling to the top using each other as a human pyramid. And my brain being what it is, it’s that image of the zombie hoard in climbing over each other to climb the wall; or a whole host of other alien encounters! There can be only one winner, and it is the one who puts all the others down.  This is the outworking I am coming to the conclusion of as I read the book on what leadership can look like from fixed thinking. If you aren’t willing to embrace failure, and are constantly looking for someone else to blame, and coming second is not an option, then you will look for ways to pull others down even as you ascend.

And further. A leader who is of fixed mindset will actually be judging those who they lead with the same success or fail mentality.

You can imagine how destructive that can be in ministry.

And how punishing it can be to the minister.

What worries me is that this is how churches can treat their minister or worker (why aren’t there more people coming to church/youth in our youth work) as it seems that when a church doesn’t grow even if the minister is doing exactly right, there will be people in the church who are of fixed mindset, who will quickly blame the ministers efforts rather than their own. Or a minister will blame the church if they are struggling. Or they will blame each other.

You can substitute a range of others here…from youth workers to diocese church planters and fresh expressions workers.

However, with servant hood we see something different. If you are seeking to help people you don’t come in with all the answers and want to demonstrate how awesome you are. You don’t need to come in with the silver bullet, or feel you need to demonstrate how fantastic you are. Rather you are able to serve people where they are at that moment and have no need to prove yourself. But that does take the security in God to be able to do that.

So is it spiritually bad to be fixed mindset?

I think there is a danger that we demonise many things, especially from a charismatic church perspective. If you feel that you must achieve then you must be sinning. Or have a major life problem that needs to be talked through and healed, possibly originating with relationships you’ve had with X.  I have seen this a lot.

But if we come with the perspective that it could just be a mindset, and how our brains are wired and that we have a choice and it is ok to make either choice (though one is more freeing) we might not see the pain of in and out: healed and unhealed: Christian or not.

And the reason I say that is to take this from the view of someone with aspergers features, but more than that my own awesome son who is diagnosed and in some sense suffers with fixed thinking.  The polarity helps me to see how fixed thinking really can limit you.

For him it means to not attempt anything where there are unsure boundaries, or risks failure. And yet he can climb walls (rock climbing).  No matter what we say to him about the effort being what matters, for him failure becomes a physical pain. Perhaps one day I can help him through this. But I recognise in myself that I have had a natural tendency towards fixed thinking ever since I was very small.  The only area I don’t is in my art…so I have started applying the art growth thinking to my every day life. And it is working.

For my son we haven’t done anything to make him think like this. In fact we have two sons who we have brought up the same. The second does not have aspergers. And he thinks completely differently.

This means that it is more deeply a way in which the mind works rather than sin.

So what might we do?

First, to recognise that when we have a mindset shift to say that we can embrace something that will lead to almost certain failure and through it we will certainly grow. And growth is the target, not the project itself.

Second, as leaders we do not need to set the bar as high as ‘we must see this succeed, and if it doesn’t do XYZ it is a failure’. This means that those who we support, help and encourage can have a much lower bar, and see effort they make as success and celebrate that.

Third, to recognise that in the end this is servant hood.

You see, the servant doesn’t have to achieve targets or goals in order to win praise from the master. Look at the parable of the talents: growth is important. Yes the rewards differed, so perhaps there is something in that. But in the end it was recognised that two servants were good and faithful, the third not.  Praise from the master comes because the task is undertaken whole heartedly with what resources are provided. No target is set.

Perhaps this is why Jesus said that when you sit at a table to sit at a lower position and wait to be invited up. Perhaps this is why scripture speaks of Christ not looking to achieve equality with God.

When we are loved by God then we are already as high as we can go. We are princes and princesses in the kingdom. There is nothing we can do to earn more love, or lose that love. So why do we still struggle. Instead, let us do everything we can to serve one another and love one another. Not looking to prove ourselves as more worthy. Not worrying whether or not we are overlooked for this or that. But rather take delight first in being loved and loving others. Because that way we see failure as opportunities to grow more. Criticism (no matter how unpleasant) as opportunities to understand ourselves and others. Risks to be taken to see what might be possible. The list could go on.

So, it’s not evil to have a fixed rather than a growth mindset. But in the end, it might be more releasing and help us to have happier ministries if our communities and we ourselves had growth not fixed mindset.

So…how do we move from one to another? Answers below (and I will keep reading the book…)