At the start of any organization, an important consideration is to decide on the type of culture that will drive the life and work of the group.  Healthy organizations understand that maintaining a dynamic and life-giving culture is important to its success.  One characteristic that defines a healthy culture is a “growth mindset”.

Before looking at what the growth mindset is, let’s look at what it is not.  The opposite of growth mindset is the “gotcha mentality”.  This thinking is driven by power, fear, and insecurity.  The person in authority seeks to demonstrate power over the other person by instilling fear (e.g., threatening low performance ratings, disparaging remarks) in the person based on their own insecurities (i.e., they feel threatened by another’s presence).  Here is a personal example.

One year I was working in a school as a Spanish teacher.  My appraiser made it clear that in order to get a good evaluation that I would need to be almost perfect.  This is not to mention that a number of people told me that this appraiser was known to be demanding when doing evaluations.

I will never forget the evaluation this person gave me.  He sat in a student desk and stared at me for the entire 45 minutes of the evaluation with an intimidating look on his face.  Needless to say, I did not return to that school.

This experience taught me that, although I did and continue to have room to improve as a teacher, the “gotcha mentality” actually drove me further away from where I needed to be.  I was focused on the appraiser’s demeanor toward me more than I was in considering what he had to say.  He wanted to control me and instill fear in me that if I didn’t live up to his standards, then there would be consequences to pay. Further, all of this was built on his own insecurity that he did not measure up.

Now that we have seen what the growth mindset is not, let’s look at what it is.  For continuity, I’ll use the example of the appraiser.  The truth is, and I’m thankful for it, the former appraiser with the gotcha mentality has been the exception and not the rule.

The appraisers I’ve experience that have come from a growth mindset have shown three characteristics: they were undoubtedly for me (i.e., they wanted me to be successful), they provided useful feedback that focused on what I did well as well as identify the areas in which I needed to grow, and they empowered me with the time and resources I needed to grow.  Those appraisers are the ones who have helped me most as a professional both as an educator and a pastor!

Here is what Paul says about growth, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Cor. 3:6, ESV)  Of course, Paul was speaking of spiritual growth, but the principle still applies – we are not in control of the growth of those around us.  We  are responsible to plant and water.

The truth is, people are watching how we treat others.  When we treat others with the gotcha mentality – control of growth by power, fear and insecurity – then the culture of our church community suffers.  However, when they see us treat people with a growth mindset – with grace, encouragement, empowerment – people grow in the truth by God’s grace.  This type of culture will allow the fruit of the gospel to grow in healthy ways that will impact the world in a positive way.