March 29, 2021

How I Developed a Growth Mindset

Written by Tom Hall

Ego Crawling In

When I got to Iowa State in 2013, I figured I would breeze through college. I was a former Army Ranger, played defensive end for the football team, and spoke three languages. There was no way in hell that fresh out of high school kids were going to surpass me in the classroom. Yet after my first semester, I had a 2.5 GPA and struggled to adjust to the pacing, the time commitments, and most importantly, the alternative mindsets that I was not accustomed to. My reality had been altered drastically. Special operations forces are arguably the most progressive thinkers in the military; however, as a young Ranger, you are at the lowest level in knowing the information. Often we would quietly question new standard operating procedures (SOPs) passed down to us from our leadership despite lacking almost all the context required to formulate a valid opinion. This would foster frustration and discontent at a low level amongst our teams because we didn’t have all the information. We were oblivious to our ignorance. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn this lesson until I was close to failing my first year in college out of the military. I would spend my days in class arguing with teachers and students over topics that I thought I was knowledgeable in, and almost every time, I would walk away defeated by the very people I had brushed off.  The reason was simple: I lacked a growth mindset. I believed that reading a single article or headline from an overtly biased news network years ago qualified me to discuss important topics such as climate change, geopolitics, and more. In short, I was highly entitled and arrogant.

Allowing Humbleness To Trickle In

After walking out of yet another class session where I had been embarrassed by students who argued from a more informed and educated stance, I decided to make a change. I went home, bought a few books, and downloaded dozens of journal articles on one of my regularly failing topics.  I intended to come back with a better argument to upstage my classmates and teachers. But that never happened. When I finished researching and reading all the facts and data, I realized I was simply wrong. It was a turning point for me because I stopped arguing and started listening from that point on. My grades picked up, the school became more enjoyable, and I would complete my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I had been humbled.

Modifying My Mindset and Seeing The Change

I took this lesson and started to apply it to other aspects of my personal and professional life. In grad school, I studied how special operations forces evolved from Vietnam through the Global War on Terror and realized why we had been forced to implement SOPs in Ranger Regiment that at the time I had disagreed with. My rigid and stubborn worldviews were softening. This change carried over to my professional career as a startup consultant and leader. I stopped looking at younger employees or interns as inferior and instead looked at them as innovative resources who possessed updated skills and knowledge that could bring alternative viewpoints to our teams alongside the experienced, established members.  I shed the “my way or the highway” mentality and encouraged people to ask questions and challenge the status quo. The results were that I could learn far more from my peers than if I hadn’t developed a growth mindset, and we could develop more efficient and adaptable processes. I urge everyone reading this not to doubt your personal opinions or professional standards but to question them to improve and become better. Like scientists consistently challenge known theories and processes, we as leaders must adapt and evolve with open viewpoints, combining new knowledge and experiences with existing ones. In part two of this topic, we will discuss in more detail how combining a growth mindset with emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills can help maximize team-building and progress.

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Tom Hall is a former United States Army Ranger where he completed multiple combat deployments as a member of the 1st Ranger Battalion before being honorably discharged in order to become one of three veterans at the time playing division one college football.  He earned a BA in political science from Iowa State, MA in international relations from UNC-Wilmington, and is currently enrolled for his MBA with the Carlson School of Management.  He has spent the last six years working for startups across the country in a multitude of roles.  He currently works as a program management consultant while also advising multiple startups on business operations, leadership development, and strategy.

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