Mindset – The secret is in the questions


One of the most recurring questions I get is: “How can I lead myself and others through change?, which leads to other questions such as: “How can I effectively manage those feelings of frustration, anxiety, and sometimes fear that everything will go wrong?”; “How can I create a safe space for my team so that they can be at their best?

You can do many things to manage change: create a vision, strategize and plan, gather resources, ask for support, etc. However, nothing will work if you do not approach change with the RIGHT MINDSET.



A mindset is a set of self-perceptions and beliefs about ourselves, others, and our world. It helps us make sense of the events of life. It determines how we think, feel, and behave in any given situation.
According to scientific researcher C. Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, mindset develops in the early stages of life. Early childhood experiences, such as adults’ behaviors and beliefs (e.g., parents, caregivers, teachers) and how they labeled or praised our behaviors and character, shaped our sense of self and mindset.



Here are a few questions you can ask yourself.

Do you believe that:

  • You were born with a certain level of intelligence that cannot be further developed?
  • You can create new skills and attitudes if you put in the right effort.
  • Challenges are an excellent opportunity to stretch yourself.
  • You are who you are, and you cannot change that?
  • You are capable of learning new things and improving yourself at any age.
  • You are either good or bad at something because of your innate talents.

If you tend to agree more strongly with b), c), e), then you may be operating from a “growth mindset” perspective; if you found yourself to prefer a), d), f) more, then you may be using a “fixed mindset” instead.



Research shows that mindset has a significant role in managing ourselves through challenges. As C. Dweck explained, mindset plays a vital role in determining achievement and success. She identifies two mindsets: “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset.” People with a “growth mindset” tend to have confidence in their ability to learn, try new things, accept challenges, and overcome obstacles. People with a “fixed mindset” tend to measure their worth based on the outcome and avoid new and challenging situations because they fear failure.

You realize how important it is to use a growth mindset in today’s world of work. How could you manage change and complexity, develop an inclusive leadership style, and work across cultures from a fixed mindset perspective?



First of all, if you are actively engaging with this question, congratulations! You are already making a positive step toward shifting from a “fixed” to a “growth” mindset.


While C.Dweck’s work helps us understand different mindsets and related perspectives, M. Adams’s book “Change your questions, change your life” provides wonderful tools to shift one’s mindset. As she explains: “the secret is in the questions we ask.”

We can ask “Learner questions” – the ones people with a growth mindset would ask – or “Judger questions” – those with a fixed mindset would be more prone to use.
She says: “Learner questions are open-minded, curious, and creative. They promote progress and possibilities and typically lead to discoveries, understanding, and solutions. By contrast, Judger questions are more closed-minded, certain, and critical; they focus on problems rather than solutions and often lead to defensive reactions, negativity, and inertia. Learner questions facilitate progress by expanding options; Judger questions impede progress by limiting perspectives.”


Therefore, by noticing what questions we are asking, we can identify the mindset we are operating from: a growth-learner vs. a fixed-judger. So what are these questions?



Who is to blame? Why can’t they perform?   vs.  What are my goals? What can I do?

How can I prove I’m right?   vs.   What are the facts, and what am I assuming?

How can I protect my turf?   vs.   How can I help?

Why aren’t we winning?   vs.   What do our customers/stakeholders want?

What could we lose?   vs.   What steps can we take to improve the situation?

Why bother?   vs.   What’s possible?


Can you see the difference? How do “learner questions” open up possibilities and help see multiple perspectives?

Reflecting on the questions we ask and switching to using more learner questions is an efficient and effective way to a) become more aware of your mindset; b) start shifting your mindset.



As a leader, what questions are you asking, and how are these supporting you and your team?

How are these helping you find effective solutions, build relationships, nurture trust and sustain performance?

Share these learner-judger questions with your team. Reflect on them together. Then, start building accountability around using more learner questions and help each other do so.


Here is some guide to help you formulate more “learner questions”:


  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Ask questions that invite learning and co-creation
  • Ask questions that engage a personal response
  • Ask questions with curiosity, optimism, and courage
  • Ask questions that look beyond the problem into the future
  • Ask questions that invite people to open up
  • Listen more, ask less. And when you ask, give space to answer


Before you embark on this journey, there are just two ground rules I would recommend you to follow:

  1. Set the right expectations. Shifting mindset will take some time. Remind yourself: it is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Remind your team too.
  2. Focus on the Process. Changing mindset (like many other changes) happens through trial and error; therefore, results may be bad at first. Don’t be too hard on yourself; mistakes are part of the journey. Be compassionate and focus on what you are learning about yourself and others. That is the gold.


I hope this brief article will inspire you and your team to embrace a growth-learner mindset. I am here to help accelerate this shift.

With care,



“Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, Dweck CS. Updated Edition. Ballantine Books; 2007.

“Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work”, Marilee Adams (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009; second edition).

“Shifting Mindsets: Questions That Lead to Results”, article, Wharton Work, Aug. 2012.

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