My question is not whether you want your club to increase its headcount.
I am asking what kind of culture you have in your club, especially among your leaders. Is it a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? Let me explain.
I remember taking on the role of District Membership chair a few years ago. As I was learning about clubs in the district, fellow district leaders would describe clubs using fixed labels. For example, they would characterize a club as a:
- Fun club
- High impact club
- Struggling club
- Older club
- Elite club
As I learned about the character and culture of these clubs, many of the labels were accurate. As I really got to talk one on one with the leaders of these clubs, even if they were given a positive label, many of those clubs were dying. New members weren't willing to breathe new life into the old projects. Members were more willing to write checks than to pitch in. Financial discipline became lax. In hindsight, I now see what was holding many of those clubs back from growing and thriving: many of those clubs had a fixed mindset.
Now, as you see above, many of these clubs were described with positive labels. And these clubs rightly celebrated what had made them special and what had helped them grow and succeed - in the past. So how were these clubs strugglling despite their positive labels?
The problem is that many of them believed the positive label and stopped there. They celebrated winning the trophy and stopped putting out the effort to win the next one. Unless a club is focused on where its next success will come from, it can get stagnant. For example, if the leaders of a “fun club” are not willing to discuss challenging issues, people disengage. If an “elite club” does not offer a unique and special opportunity for members once they get recommended and inducted, members start to ask, “What was the point of this?”
Fixed mindsets limit people’s willingness to hear criticism, even if accurate and well-intended. Leaders in a club or district with a fixed mindset want to be reminded of how terrific they are. A fixed mindset celebrates the glory years and wishes things could be like that again. However, In a changing world, a fixed mindset can bring success to a halt.
Now, let's think about a truly struggling club. If that club has a fixed mindset, it is in big trouble because it tends to see its challenges as permanent and outside of its members’ control. It will blame its lack of growth and impact on the economy, their meeting location, their legacy projects or some other reason. As our district team would share growth efforts that were highly successful elsewhere in the district, we would hear club leaders say things like, “We can’t grow like the suburbs; our population is not growing like theirs.” Or, “We tried a membership drive, but it did not work.” Another told me, “Young people are just not interested in community service anymore.” That one is far from the truth.
So what is the solution? Adopt a growth mindset. Carol Dweck’s research tells us that people who adopt a growth mindset:
- Embrace challenges
- Persist in the face of setbacks
- See effort as a path to mastery
- Learn from criticism
- Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others
Think about your own successes. Which ones do you treasure the most, the ones that came easy or the triumphs that came from hard work, despite near disaster? A club's culture is no different. Your club is defined by how it handles challenge.
I often hear people talk about how they love the book, Good to Great, by Jim Collins. Collins' research revealed that leaders of great companies were not trying to prove they were the best. Rather, they wanted to improve. For great companies, it’s not about past success. It’s about where their next success will come from. That also explains why there are no permanently great companies. You have to keep working at it.
For Rotarians, The Four Way Test does not mean you do not confront tough issues. It does not mean you tolerate inappropriate jokes. It does not mean you allow challenges to be accepted as permanent truths. The Four Way Test simply provides guidance on how to approach those challenges.
So what are some of the ways you can begin to embrace a growth mindset in your club?
- Acknowledge your past success. Your club formed and thrived at some point because someone made the effort to do something special. Tie your future success to its past.
- Create a vision. Decide what your club is going to be about in the future. What is your purpose in your community? Use a consensus-building process to create your club's inspiring and challenging future vision.
- Communicate the change. People need to know what the change means and does not mean. What efforts will need to take place and how will it affect them? What will you stop doing in the future, even if it was encouraged in the past?
- Reshape your stories. Rather than only celebrate only your accomplishments, celebrate the efforts to make your club better and stronger, even if they were not successful. For example, if you held a fundraiser, talk about some of the challenges and how you overcame them. Call out members who got through challenges, who learned from mistakes and created a platform for further success and growth in the future.
- Take action. As you recite the Four Way Test each week, remember it is a test of the things you think, say and DO. Experiment. Test. Play. Inspire. Gitterdone!
At a district level, reward and recognize clubs that are changing and succeeding because of the efforts of their members. Numbers alone don't tell the story of whether a club has a growth mindset. Don't give rewards for efforts that took place years ago. A club that works hard to rethink its mission and gets its members to embrace the new vision is likely a lot stronger in the long run than a club that stumbles into success and does not dare to try something new. Reward what you want more of in the future.
- Think about where you want to be as a club.
- Say words that celebrate efforts more than accomplishments.
- DO something positive that will take your club closer to its vision. Do something this year that will be worthy of your club’s purpose.
And as a person, a leader and a Rotarian, keep growing!