Review by Jo Owen

13 Sep 2015, 19:00

The Mindset of Success: From Good Management to Great Leadership

Carol Dweck’s study into growth mindset for students has proven to be very popular in schools, yet it isn’t just for the kids, it’s for the grown-ups too, according to Jo Owen. The Mindset of Success explores the minds of the most successful people in business, education, politics ­— even the spy world. What makes them tick and, ultimately, be the best at what they do? How do they move from managing to leading?

As a manager who has been on many management and leadership courses, it is quite refreshing to read something that isn’t about management jargon, “helicopter” models or examples that relate to the animal world. Owen’s writing cuts to the chase: the simple and friendly anecdotal style gives a plethora of examples (great for assembly ideas) and scenarios that you can consider and apply to your own context. In preparing for this book and searching for the secrets of leadership, Owen interviewed several leaders across the world, condensing their answers and adding a few historical examples for measure. Each of the book’s seven sections deal with a key quality of leadership, from courage to accountability to high aspirations.

But is this a book for schools and leaders in education? Simply, yes. Fixed mindsets dog our schools. We always do it this way so why should we change it? That’s why new blood hopefully injects a new idea or a new way of seeing things. The problem with the way that Carol Dweck’s studies have been used, by her own admission, is that they haven’t been administered in the right way; they have been done too fast or lack in depth.

What I like about this book is the implication that time, positivity, mistakes and thought make for a better leader than perfection, ruthlessness and stubbornness. And rather than give us a tick list of what a good and bad leader should do to be successful, Owen takes us on a journey of various elements relating to leadership, allowing us to position our way through the good and the bad to see what we, as leaders, need to do to be better. The journey isn’t a fast one, but at least Owen makes us ask and answer the right questions. The secret to success often isn’t with new blood and new things; it is about taking stock and answering the right question or looking at things from a different angle.

The examples included are remarkably interesting. I found the stories of Vietnamese prisoners of war especially insightful. Their resilience is a lesson for us all: how they coped in inhumane situations and survived. This sense of humanity that underpins the book is often missing in management and business tomes. All too often, management attempts to categorise people and look at how to deal with a certain type of person: this is the problem and here’s how you could deal with it. This book challenges that. For example: you are in a difficult situation so find some humour in things. It is a humane approach to leadership and management.

There is a heart-warming message at the centre of the book: you can learn from your mistakes. We live in an age of educational insecurity. No
one seems to have faith or confidence in what they do or need to do to improve education. We have an insecure government, Ofsted, headteachers, middle leaders, teachers.

The Mindset of Success tells us that leaders should have confidence in their decisions and be prepared and confident to learn from their mistakes. The most successful have made mistakes in their past. Simply, the book is a healthy antidote to the fear that surrounds management and the fear of not being good enough. Have some confidence.

It is a common sense and practical approach on how to become successful leader that takes inspiration from the unlikeliest of sources.


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