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How Less Perfect Performance And More Intentional Learning Strengthen Success

This post originally appeared on Forbes.

“When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you rot,” the late McDonald’s leader Ray Kroc liked to say. Maybe being too “ripe” rather than a little “green” explains why some people feel stalled in their careers and teams don’t make progress as expected. In a recent conversation, Eduardo Briceño, CEO of, cofounder of Mindset Works and author of The Performance Paradox: Turning the Power of Mindset into Action, explains how we can become trapped as chronic performers—trying to do everything perfectly—rather than operating in the learning zone, actively exercising our capacity to grow and change.

We get stuck in performance “when we focus on getting things done as best as we know how, trying to minimize mistakes,” Briceño contends. “It’s a mental state where we’re focused on getting things done and we use strategies to do what we know works and try not to take risks. The learning zone is where we go beyond what we have done before, what we have already mastered. We focus on what’s unknown. We pay attention to the things that surprise us, to the mistakes that we make. And we use strategies that are not just about getting things done but that lead to improvement.”

It’s appropriate to be in performance mode if the stakes are high, says Briceño, when success depends on minimizing errors and doing whatever has been proven to work. In the long run, though, organizational strength comes from being willing to take risks, experiment and acknowledge mistakes. Briceño provides several examples of how to prime a growth mindset that lets us intentionally experiment and “extract the lessons” from things that go wrong, thereby enhancing organizational culture and effectiveness.

Help People Spend More Time In The Learning Zone

Briceño encourages leaders to identify what people care most about and what they want to accomplish, and then to assess how their approaches or habits might make it harder for them to achieve their goals. But since it can be stressful for people to accept corrective feedback, perhaps the most important thing leaders can do is to “solicit feedback frequently and broadly” for themselves and model the idea that this practice is “important for everyone in the company to do.”

For example, if all executive team members “share one thing that they’re working to improve so that they can support each other” in making that change, then other team members can provide relevant information, access to networks or other resources, thereby supporting each other’s development. When executives consistently model that approach for their own functional teams, the habit of sharing for mutual improvement can take hold across the organization.

A willingness to be vulnerable, exposing one’s errors and accepting feedback and support demonstrates humility as well as a willingness to grow and change. When executives take this stance they show employees at all levels that acknowledging mistakes and weaknesses and asking for support are valued behaviors worth emulating. Over time, notes Briceño, openness and humility become normalized and less vulnerability is required overall.

Foster Growth Through Relationships

Good relationships at work foster well-being. They make it feel safer to focus on learning and show imperfections and inadequacies, rather than remaining stuck in performance mode, feeling required to appear at the height of our game without deviation or rest. When colleagues collaborate and support each other, they develop mutual understanding and deeper connections. “In sharing what I’m trying to improve, in sharing what I’m unsure about—sharing my mistakes and my lessons—I’m disclosing more of myself to you,” says Briceño. This creates an opportunity to “know each other more deeply in ways that other people might not get to know me as deeply because I’m not sharing as much with them. I’m not sharing as much of my thoughts and emotions. And so that creates a deeper bond with you, because I am more transparent with you than I tend to be with other people.” The result is a virtuous cycle of closeness and growth that fosters both stronger collaboration and retention.

Get More Benefit From Providing Varied Learning Opportunities

“The most powerful learning happens when the person is choosing it—when they are saying, ‘I want to learn X and I’m going to do Y about it,’” says Briceño. In strong organizational cultures, there are clear standards and required competencies, and people receive feedback about where they’re doing well and what skills they need to develop to be considered for promotion. Once they’ve received feedback, they have options and choices about how they would like to improve themselves. Companies often invest in specialized development programs for high potentials and employees on the leadership track, but it benefits the whole company when everyone has opportunities to grow and develop. Organizations can provide a range of developmental support like access to LinkedIn Learning or other inexpensive, self-organized, peer teaching programs.

Make Meetings More Valuable

Many meetings are really exercises in performance, with executives delivering pro forma reports and making plain that they have no problems. But when everyone looks perfect, it’s likely that no one is improving. So, stop conducting meetings in which the same topics are always discussed and nothing changes. Instead, try fostering new learning and individual growth by shifting meeting agendas. For example, says Briceño, devote part of meetings to “learning zone conversations” and encourage attendees to share something they learned the prior week. This lets them not merely focus on what they might have got wrong but to identify the learning they gained from the mistake and how it could drive future actions. If senior leaders do this kind of reflection in their own meetings, Briceño says, their example will percolate down and foster similar transparency and learning at all levels of the organization.

Onward and upward—

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