Strategizing: Learning versus Performance Mindset

Lesson 2: Topic 4 of 14

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The third mindset comparison relates to the way a person pursues goals. One who is oriented to performance is driven to gain favorable judgements (or at least avoid negative ones). They wish to be seen as competent. A learning mindset, on the other hand, is more internal than external. This person thirsts for knowledge and is animated by mastering something new.

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What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

Zig Ziglar

Gottfredson and Reina go on to write, “The basic premise [here] is that individuals, largely non-consciously, take on a specific goal preference or orientation toward their achievement situations, and the goal orientation they adopt directs their efforts to support the goal they are oriented toward.” In other words, the attitudes one has about an objective, and the actions taken to reach it, are likely to be significantly different between these two mindsets.    

Resilience is a factor, too. A leader or staffer with a learning mindset is comfortable with a certain amount of failure because theirs is a process, not an end state. While they may be disappointed, they keep plugging away, whereas their counterpart who is geared toward performance will more likely see failure as … just failure. Learning mindset individuals in general feel freer to engage more deeply, deliberately seek out feedback, and remain flexible. Performance mindset holders might accomplish more, but at the same time are more fearful of judgement if they do fail. When that happens they’re going to need more encouragement to persevere.

Here are two hypothetical students showing how this pattern plays out. ‘Jack’ relishes a new history project for the opportunity to learn and stretch himself with a new academic challenge. He looks for innovative ways to express his knowledge through a project presentation to the class. Jack is a learning participant. ‘Alisa’ may produce work that may be similar in quality and effort, but the motivation is strikingly different for her as a performance-focused student. She is looking for high grades and high praise, and might be quite distressed if she falls short of her own expectations. She also invests a great deal of time and effort into her research and presentation, hoping for accolades. Each student has set high goals for themselves, but for completely different reasons. Later, as adults in the workforce, the patterns will play out again.

If you are supervisor to these two, be grateful. Both are strongly self-motivated for success. But if something happens that causes them not to be – if Jack’s been assigned a task he finds boring, and Alisa can’t see the point in performing for a paycheck – you’ll have trouble.

By understanding their respective mindsets over time, you can tailor assignments and responses specific to each one to help them perform at their best.