Carol Dweck, Fixed Mindset and Narcissistic CEOs

“We were stars—precocious stars,” wrote Stephen Glass, “and that was what mattered.” The public understands them as cheats, and cheat they did. But I understand them as talented young people—desperate young people—who succumbed to the pressures of the fixed mindset.”

-Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck is a psychologist who teaches at Stanford University. She has done an interesting research on how people react to difficult situations, some work hard and overcome difficult situation and succeed in life, while others give up. She wrote a book on this- Mindset.

She concluded that some people have fixed mindset i.e. they feel that intelligence is fixed – you are either born intelligent or average, this will not change in your lifespan. While others have growth mindset, they feel that with hardwork and practice they can keep increasing their intelligence.

Those with fixed mindset have tendency to look smart, avoid negative feedback and feel threatened by success of others.

Carol Dweck gives examples from field of sports, business, journalism etc.

People with fixed mindset believe that they are smart and others are not so smart. So, they try hard to maintain their image of smart person, their biggest fear is of failure i.e. what will happen if they are seen as failure. They always want to succeed in life.

Stephen Glass was working as journalist with magazine The New Republic, he was one of the rising stars. He wrote interesting article on hacker who was demanding gifts from a company. It was found that story was fake, later it was found that many other articles of his were fake. Stephen Glass committed journalistic fraud just to maintain his image of being a smart person. A movie was made on him called “Shattered Glass”.


Similarly, another journalist Janet Cooke wrote story of 8 years old drug addict Jimmy for The Washington Post. She won Pulitzer Prize for this story in 1981. But it was found to be fake, no such child existed.

“It was unfair that she won the Pulitzer prize, but also unfair that she didn’t win the Nobel Prize in Literature”.

-Gabriel García Márquez on Janet Cooke

Many narcissistic CEOs too suffer from fixed mindset. The believe that they are smart and try hard to maintain that impression. To maintain their image, they hate to be seen as failure, they find someone else to blame. In fixed mind world, they are superior and rest are inferior. Since others are perceived as inferior they don’t believe in coaching or developing others. They always take more credit than they deserve. They are always afraid of success of others and hate any constructive criticism.

Lee Iacocca left Ford Motors to join Chrysler. He did great job of turnaround of company. But success combined with fixed mindset stopped him from learning. He stopped listening to others. He sacked people whose ideas were different from his. After some time, Chrysler again became bankrupt.

 “Iacocca lived the fixed mindset. Although he started out loving the car business and having breakthrough ideas, his need to prove his superiority started to dominate, eventually killing his enjoyment and stifling his creativity. As time went on and he became less and less responsive to challenges from competitors, he resorted to the key weapons of the fixed mindset—blame, excuses, and the stifling of critics and rivals. “

-Carol Dweck

Alfred Dunlap was another CEO with fixed mindset. His specialisation was to turnaround loss making companies, his methods included closing of units, firing people, accounting frauds to make company look profitable. One such company was Sunbeam, where he fired hundreds of employees, showed inflated sales, while unsold inventory was stored in warehouses. He was called “Chainsaw Al” due to way he downsized.

Yet another talented CEO with fixed mindset was Jeffery Skilling. As CEO of Enron he committed lot of accounting frauds to show that Enron was successful company. He was arrested for committing frauds and Enron was declared bankrupt.

Carol Dweck also gives examples of CEOs with growth mindset.

Jack Welch is one such CEO with growth mindset. He made GE one of the largest and most profitable company. He also spent lot of time and efforts on developing leaders. For wrong decisions, he blamed himself and not others.

IBM was organisation ruled by leaders with fixed mindset. They had strong sense of entitlement. To save the company an outsider was appointed as CEO. Louis Gerstner came from finance industry and had no experience of IT. But using his growth mindset, he took challenge of turning around IBM. He talks about his challenges in his book – Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance. He managed to make IBM profitable company.

Like IBM, Xerox too was facing lot of problems, it had become a debt-ridden company. Anne Mulcahy who was Xerox veteran was made CEO. She used her growth mindset to turnaround the company.

“Becoming CEO was not on my radar screen when I signed on to HR. It came into focus later, a convergence of several unpredictable circumstances, and after I had done a couple of other jobs at the company. And then I was in the right place at the right time.”

-Anne Mulachy


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