Corporate Training: Are Managers Born or Made?

Excerpt from Chapter 5 of by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Random House, 2006).

By Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.

Millions of dollars and thousands of hours are spent each year trying to teach leaders and managers how to coach their employees and give them effective feedback. Yet much of this training is ineffective, and many leaders and mangers remain poor coaches. Is that because this can’t be trained? No, that’s not the reason. Research sheds light on why corporate training often fails.

Studies by Peter Heslin, Don VandeWalle, and Gary Latham show that many managers do not believe in personal change. These fixed-mindset managers simply look for existing talent—they judge employees as competent or incompetent at the start, and that’s that. They do rela­tively little developmental coaching and when employees do improve, they may fail to take notice, remaining stuck in their initial impression. What’s more (like managers at Enron), they are far less likely to seek or accept critical feedback from their employees. Why bother to coach em­ployees if theycan’t change and why get feedback from them if youcan’t change?

Managers with a growth mindset think it’s nice to have talent, but that’s just the starting point. These managers are more committed to their employees’ development, and to their own. They give a great deal more developmental coaching, they notice improvement in employees’ performance, and they welcome critiques from their employees.

Most exciting, the growth mindset can be taught to managers. Heslin and his colleagues conducted a brief workshop based on well-established psychological principles. (By the way, with a few changes, it could just as easily be used to promote a growth mindset in teachers or coaches.) The workshop starts off with a video and a scientific article about how the brain changes with learning. As with our “Brainology” workshop (de­scribed in Chapter 8), it’s always compelling for people to understand how dynamic the brain is and how it changes with learning. The article goes on to talk about how change is possible throughout life and how people can develop their abilities at most tasks with coaching and practice. Al­though managers, of course, want to find the right person for a job, the exactly right person doesn’t always come along. However, training and experience often can draw out and develop the qualities required for suc­cessful performance.

The workshop then takes managers through a series of exercises in which they:

  1. Consider why it’s important to understand that people can develop their abilities.
  2. Think of areas in which they once had low ability but now perform well.
  3. Write to a struggling protégé about how his or her abilities can be developed.
  4. Recall times they have seen people learn to do things they never thought these people could do. In each case, they reflect upon why and how change takes place.

After the workshop, there was a rapid change in how readily the par­ticipating managers detected improvement in employee performance, in how willing they were to coach a poor performer, and in the quantity and quality of their coaching suggestions. What’s more, these changes persisted over the six-week period in which they were followed up.

What does this mean? First, it means that our best bet is not simply to hire the most talented managers we can find and turn them loose, but to look for managers who also embody a growth mindset: a zest for teaching and learning, an openness to giving and receiving feedback, and an ability to confront and surmount obstacles.

It also means we need to train leaders, managers, and employees to believe in growth, in addition to training them in the specifics of effec­tive communication and mentoring. Indeed, a growth mindset work­shop might be a good first step in any major training program.

Finally, it means creating a growth-mindset environment in which people can thrive. This involves:

  • Presenting skills as learnable.
  • Conveying that the organization values learning and perseverance, not just ready-made genius or talent.
  • Giving feedback in a way that promotes learning and future success.
  • Presenting managers as resources for learning.

Without a belief in human development, many corporate training programs become exercises of limited value. With a belief in develop­ment, such programs give meaning to the term “human resources” and become a means of tapping enormous potential.

Excerpt from Chapter 5 of by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success(Random House, 2006).

Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is a leading researcher in the field of motivation and is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research focuses on why people succeed and how to foster success, especially in times of change. She has held professorships at Columbia and Harvard Universities, has lectured all over the world, and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, has sold over 250,000 copies and is considered a classic in the fields of leadership, management, and education. Previous corporate speaking engagements include Globespan Venture Capital Group, Russell Reynolds, Great American Insurance, Coca-Cola, Abbot Laboratories, PricewaterhouseCoopers, IBM, Apple, and Department of Agriculture. For more information, visit

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.