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SPaMCAST 446 will feature our essay on questions.  Questions are a coach and facilitator’s secret power! But, with great power comes great responsibility.  

Our second column is from Gene Hughson.  Gene and I discussed his essay Go-to People Considered Harmful originally published on his blog Form Follows Function (  The concept may sound counterintuitive, but it is not.

The third column is from Kim Pries, the Software Sensei.  In this installment, Kim dives into the topic of servant leadership.

Re-Read Saturday News (more…)

Questions, like most tools, can be used correctly or incorrectly.  A hammer used on a nail or on a screw is still a hammer; however, in most circumstances, we would debate the effectiveness of the hammer when used to insert a screw.  Questions are no different than our proverbial hammer.  Used well they can generate information or shape behavior; used incorrectly they can generate misinformation and friction. When questions are used for coaching and mentoring there are a number of poor practices that should be avoided: (more…)

Horse Crossing Sign

What is the Question?  Horse Crossing

Questions are a powerful tool for eliciting information, helping people grow, or leading people.  However asking questions often requires more than just opening your mouth and uttering the first words that come to mind.  Asking the right questions at the right time is a combination of art, science, and preparation. (more…)

CC Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Questions are a critical tool that every coach, mentor or leader uses to help shape and improve the performance of those they interact with.  ‘Question’ represents a high-level category that describes many different types of questions.  This is similar to the screwdriver.  If you were to walk into a hardware store and ask for a screwdriver the clerk would ask what kind and/or what you were going to use it for in order to help you find the right kind.  There are different taxonomies of questions which are useful to help practitioners decide what type of question suits which purpose. (more…)

Asking Questions Implies Listening

As coaches, leaders, change agents and even parents, the act of asking questions can take on an almost magical power to guide and change behavior. As with any powerful tool, when the tool begins to take on magical attributes, the users of the tool begin to forget that a tool is just a tool.  At that point, to quote Ian Brown, “they just become a fool with a tool.” Questions are a useful tool for a coach because questions: (more…)

Mindset Book Cover

Today we tackle Chapter 3 in Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (buy your copy and read along). In Chapter 3 Dweck provides a view into how different mindsets impacts how we learn and teach school and other learning scenarios.  The impact of mindsets can be wide and long lasting.

I have looked at a lot of resumes and talked to a lot of job applicants over my career and as a consultant, the tables are often turned on me in most sales calls. In these intimate dances, both parties are assessing the others abilities and accomplishments. During this assessment, we are making judgments of whether someone (or some organization) can satisfy our needs now and often whether they can grow to meet future needs. Perceptions about abilities and accomplishments color our thinking and our actions in many situations and in many ways.

Dweck opens the chapter with a discussion of how the two mindsets affect teachers and students in schools. Conceiving of a school setting might be difficult for a business person, therefore it would be easy to write off this chapter as not relevant. It is relevant, first as leaders we need to understand the long-term effect mindsets have on the people that are in our organization and secondly, the impact of mindsets can have on training and education that is delivered inside the organization. If you go no further and don’t read the chapter, the punchline in this chapter can be summarized as, people with fixed mindset will find excuses and rationalize any perceived failures while those with a growth mindset will tend to double-down and work harder as work gets more difficult.

As we have seen in other scenarios described in earlier chapters in Mindset, those with a fixed mindset spend a lot of time and effort in order to protect their ego and to avoid the perception of failure. The need to spend time on ego protection saps time and focus from all other endeavors. As another example, Dweck describes the impact of different mindsets on how individuals study. A person with a fixed mindset will tend to read and re-read their notes and the assigned course reading. A fairly classic approach to studying (I have used this method myself). Alternately, someone with a growth mindset will reformulate notes, look for themes in the material and leverage outside. Personally, reflecting on my studying performance, I used both methods on different topics, the difference being interest and passion. Dweck suggests that the difference is that the person with a growing mindset synthesizes the information so they can use it outside of the classroom rather than to take the test. Reflect on the people you talked to the last time you were in school or other form of educational environment which included a test. Can you remember hearing people complaining after a test that the question(s) asked weren’t exactly what the teacher or professor talked about in class?  I can and that is often a marker for a fixed mindset.

Dweck uses several other scenarios set in academic settings in the chapter to illuminate the central premise that people with a fixed mindset focus on protecting their ego while those with a growth mindset focus on learning and new challenges which improve motivation (and value to the organization).

The explicit, very bipolar, view of mindsets must be tempered with the understanding that everyone can change. Much of the chapter’s examples present how the student/teacher relationship influences whether a growth or fixed mindset is adopted.  One example presented by Dweck that resonated with me was that teachers who preached a growth mindset got different outcomes in the classroom. Children that started in the lower performance groups ended up in the higher groups by the end of the year. Expectations help frame how we treat people. Early in my eldest daughter’s scholastic career my wife and I changed her school because there was no expectation from some teachers that they needed to challenge her (it did not help that one teacher taught that dinosaurs and cavemen lived at the same time – in science class).  Expectations also work in the in the business environment (consider listening to the interview with David Marquet, author of Turn the Ship Around! On SPaMCAST xxx and xxx for more examples).

Expectations, effort, and struggle are key to growing capabilities and reflect a growth mindset. Giving up because something does not come naturally because you are not a prodigy, is a sign of a fixed mindset.

Expectations and the feedback generated by those expectations can be a double-edged sword. Praise for ability tends to foster more of the need for ego protection while expectations and praise for effort tend to elicit more effort (this supports the idea that mindsets can evolve). Dweck points out a study that found that when praise centered on ability nearly 40% lied about their results.

In this chapter, Dweck uses school and other learning examples. A growth mindset allows people to develop their minds fully versus a fixed mindset which is bound by the boundaries that they adopt. The chapter culminates with a set of questions to grow your mindset. For example, one question is, “Are there situations where you get stupid — where you disengage your intelligence?” The exercise is to consider those scenarios and think about how you can learn and improvement.

Chapter 3 – From a Coach’s Perspective

Transforming an organization (whatever size) requires growth. During an Agile transformation, people often need change how they work and interact with others around them.  This kind of a change can require people expand their capabilities, in the vernacular of the book, to shift mindsets. Instead of address individuals, a transformation coach often needs to focus on shifting the bias of the organization towards a growth mindset. Shifting the organization’s mindset bias towards growth will help to erode negative stereotypes and labels which will slow change.

Transforming a team can be approached more intimately. The coach and other leaders can create an environment and set expectations to reframe how people are treated. Setting and reinforcing a growth mindset will erode the silos that keep individuals from growing. Over the years as a leader, I have recognized that almost everyone has the ability to grow when given the chance. Coach have to help shape the environment and the language being used to in order to erase boundaries that limit achievement.

Previous Entries of the re-read of Mindset:



Coaches and change agents use many types of influence to help teams and organizations perform better as they lead.  Influence can be applied through a number of highly nuanced approaches. And like many activities, when you find success with one it is easy to fall into a trap of thinking that that approach will always work.  While sports analogies are often overdone, I will add one more to the pile before swearing them off (for this essay at least).  The Super Bowl, the pinnacle of US Football, was recently played and featured a come from behind victory. The New England Patriots won the game despite having many of their top receivers sidelined due to injury. If the Patriots had only one approach to the game based on that set of receivers they would have been blown out. A good coach will be able to leverage different forms of influence based on the context they find themselves face or be able to recognize when dangerous forms of influence are being used.  Recently I ran across a list of 7 approaches to influencing teams or organizations. Some of these approaches can be useful for coaches and some are harmful. The 7 forms of influence, some good and some bad, include: (more…)

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