Developing a Growth Mindset as a Servant Leader

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Servant leadership is a simple concept, but it’s not easy to execute. The most challenging part of the servant style of leadership is that it’s opposite of how human beings operate. Being selfless takes work and doesn’t come naturally. There are several ways to work at being more selfless, all of which begin in your mind. 

Dr. Carol Dweck has famously researched and written about the psychology of the mind in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In it, she coined the now famous buzzword “growth mindset.” Just as with servant leadership, having a growth mindset is a simple concept, but it’s not easy to accomplish because it doesn’t come naturally. Having a growth mindset and being a servant leader both take work. 

In a 2016 article from the Harvard Business Review, Dr. Dweck addressed the widespread misunderstandings about growth mindset, stating that having one “takes hard work, employing good strategies and gaining input from others.” The same can and should be said of being a servant leader. In fact, a servant leader must develop a growth mindset to flip what’s abnormal into consistency in life and leadership. 

When people work toward being effective servant leaders, they must first develop a growth mindset. With that in place, they will worry less, place their energy into learning, be more committed, have the confidence to empower others and receive greater support from others within the organization. Embracing the challenges of development is key, as Dr. Dweck states, “we all have our own fixed-mindset triggers.” Servant leaders have their own triggers that distract them from thinking about others first as well. As Dr. Dweck notes, it’s easy to “fall into insecurity or defensiveness, a response that inhibits growth.”

It’s plain to see the parallels of developing a growth mindset and developing as a servant leader. It’s equally plain to see the parallels of how momentum in both pursuits can be stunted. In the quest to become the best servant leader you can be, here are a few ways to develop a growth mindset:

1. Monitor Positive Inner Dialogue

What’s the conversation in your head as it pertains to us? Individuals with a fixed mindset tend to think obstacles aren’t worth overcoming, are close minded and are constantly comparing themselves to others. This is not servant leader thinking. The more positive your conversation with us is about us, the quicker you’ll start to see attitudes, actions and outlooks shift. Prepare for a more meaningful view of your identity! 

2. View Setbacks as a Learning Tool

Part of a negative inner commentary is connected to the fear of failure. When you turn setbacks into opportunities to learn, you begin to see obstacles as ways to grow and develop. As a servant leader, when you can show others that setbacks are setups to significant learning moments, you can be the difference-maker you ought to be.

3. Never Make Perfection a Goal

Instead, make it a destination. For some people, making perfection a goal creates an end result that eliminates any other option. However, if you make perfection a journey, your synapses fire in a way that promotes development and challenges you to strive for higher heights. Think about a road trip. Part of the joy is the journey. Having a growth mindset as a servant leader conditions you to desire to be great as you stop and smell the roses along the way. 

4. Avoid Labels and Stereotypes

Part of having a fixed mindset is dwelling on “in the box” thinking. If you constantly put yourself and others in the box of labels and stereotypes, you’re seldom able to embrace the full potential of others. See situations and others on a “case-by-case basis” and encounter others with a fresh perspective. Make it a goal to have others “surprise” you. It makes life and business more fun and intriguing. 

5. Strive to Improve, Not Prove

We live in a judgmental world where the pressure to perform is at an all-time high. It seems like the world around you wants you to prove you’re worth the money, the opportunity and the time. The pressure to prove yourself leaves you void of your true identity. When you’re motivated to improve, you take full control of who you are, but more importantly, who you are not. Focusing on improvement creates the freedom to be your authentic self and gives others the permission to be transparent and vulnerable, creating the opportunity for development for all. 

Developing a growth mindset as a servant leader will lead to overcoming obstacles in situations where the need for exceptional leadership is paramount. The people we serve will go as we grow, and our service will gain influence and momentum. If we have the kind of mindset that uses good servant leadership principles and employs those principles consistently, making significant strides in our professional lives will be evident.


Lyle Tard
Servant Leader Catalyst, RBLP-C, Emotional Intelligence Influencer

Lyle Tard is the Founder and CEO of IMPACT Servant Leadership, started in 2018. He is currently in his 19th year as a Technical Sergeant in the United States Air Force. While still on active duty, Lyle serves his country at the 305 Maintenance Group at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst as the Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of Training Management.

As a communicator, Lyle has spoken worldwide inside and out of the military community. He has motivated young adults at institutions such as Atlanta Leadership College, American University, Harvard Kennedy School of Government and his alma mater, Ashford University. Just as in the Air Force, Lyle takes pride in leading the next generation of world changers. From universities to businesses to churches, Lyle's passion is to influence the world to realize that "Leaders lead best when they serve." IMPACT Servant Leadership aims to transition our most impactful areas of society to realize that achieving power with others is more beneficial socially and economically than asserting power over others. Lyle is also the primary moderator of the Service is Power podcast, spreading the message that "The Power to Serve,