ATD Blog

COVID, Mindset, and Agility . . . Oh My!

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

I had this epiphany one day when I was driving home from work. When I neared the stoplight that preceded the highway on-ramp, I moved my gearshift in my Prius from drive to B, which isn’t a break but slows the car. After a few minutes of waiting, the light turned green, and I hit the pedal to join the ranks of cars zipping down the highway. As I was merging, I noticed my car didn’t have the oomph it usually had. I pressed the gas pedal for more power, but the power I hoped for didn’t present itself. I juggled thoughts through my mind. Did I have enough oil? Water? Or worse—was something majorly wrong with my car? It wasn’t until I was exiting the highway and coming to a light that I reached to move my shifter to B and realized it was still in B from the last light. To my delight, there was nothing wrong with my car. I had simply forgotten to shift from B to drive.

I couldn’t help realizing how analogous that situation was to life. How easy it is to get distracted and allow things in our life to impede our progress toward goals, yet all we need to do is make a simple shift to regain our momentum. The shift doesn’t necessarily need to begin with action but rather with a shift of mindset.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the scene, causing establishments like gyms to close, I told myself that I couldn’t work out because the gyms were closed. Well, 30 pounds later and after much reflection, I realized the obstacle to my health and fitness was not the gym, but my mindset. I could have found running paths to run along. I could have done floor exercises and jumping jacks, purchased a jump rope, and even used the handheld dumbbells that have been collecting dust, unloved and uncared for, on my bedroom floor. OK, so about now you’re thinking what does this have to do with leadership in healthcare. Well, everything really.

In Harvard Business Review, Ryan Gottfredson and Chris Reina share that a survey conducted by Brandon Hall Group in 2013 found the majority of organizations in the study rated their leadership development as not very effective. In their own research they determined that:


It’s likely because most leadership development efforts overlook a specific attribute that is foundational to how leaders think, learn, and behave: their mindsets. Mindsets are leaders’ mental lenses that dictate what information they take in and use to make sense of and navigate the situations they encounter.


According to Carol Dweck, there are fixed and growth mindsets. “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart, and they put more energy into learning.”

A fixed mindset leader is less likely to learn from the challenges they are facing in the VUCA environment of COVID-19 and more likely to be fearful of taking risks and stepping out of one’s comfort zone by incorporating or adopting changes quickly. A growth mindset leader pivots as needed and recognizes failures as learning opportunities. This leader is more likely to take on other responsibilities as processes and procedures change and sees this as progress.

What is important to note is that leaders have a mixture of both mindsets, and to navigate during the time of COVID-19, leaders must recognize when they are in a fixed mindset (that may slow down or impede the agility required in today’s environment) and shift to a growth mindset by surfing the undulating wave of risk while ensuring that frequent reflection and debriefs occur to learn from mistakes and failures. The learning that occurs will provide insight toward improved processes, procedures, policies, and outcomes. And keep the people driving forward toward accomplishing their organization’s mission, vision, and goals.

About the Author

Christina Johnson, Ed.D., CPTD, is the organizational development and training manager for Ruiz Foods, a family-owned food manufacturing company that has created a legacy of making great food. She’s a creative and inspiring talent development leader who develops other leaders and empowers teams to foster an ideal work environment and achieve organizational outcomes.

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