Leadership is a Muscle – Fast Company July 2007

Chip and Dan Heath, co-authors of the recent bestseller Made to Stick, Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die write a monthly column with the same name in Fast Company magazine. Their July 2007 column is entitled Leadership is a Muscle: How is your attitude about your abilities affecting success?

In this interesting article the Heath brothers cite Stanford’s Carol Dweck’s new book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and her research on how we think about intelligence and it’s impact on our performance. Dweck believes that there are two types of mind-sets: fixed and growth.

Tiger Woods is an athlete with a growth mind-set, someone who obsesses about his game and makes incremental improvements. Manny Ramirez of the Boston Red Sox appears to have a fixed mind-set, relying on his enormous natural gifts to succeed (but not as keen on things like attending spring training). All of us blend the mind-sets in our heads. We might say, “I can’t draw.” But few of us would say, “I was born without the ability to ride a bike.”

This Accenture ad captures Dweck’s theory.


Dweck ran an experiment with junior high school students who were trained to have a growth mind-set and taught that the brain is a muscle that gets stronger with exercise.

The results were astonishing. The brain-is-a-muscle students significantly outperformed their peers in math, many showing dramatic turnarounds, such as the student who went from a failing grade to an 84 on her next exam. Dweck’s work shows that a pure idea intervention can have a substantial effect. “The brain is a muscle” is an idea that stuck.

The Heath brothers take this concept into the realm of business and leadership and ask us to consider “whether a few hours of training in a powerful idea might move the needle on corporate income statements.” Of course, this can be extended to nearly any performance measure in an organization.

Do you know what it takes to be a Tiger?

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Peter A. Mello

Father, son. Lifelong mariner, student of leadership, photographer. Professional creative placemaker.

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