Coaching Practices

Coaching Practice: Beginners’ Mindset and Behaviors
What is this practice?
A way to excel by capitalizing on the strengths of the beginners’ mindset and behaviors.
Why should I use it?
When we take on a new level of responsibility or take on a project for which we have little or no experience, most of us go through a period of destabilization. Our environment has shifted. We are moved out of our inertia and we are asked to pay attention to things differently.

If you are like most people, you are well aware of the learning curve you are facing and you would like to turn that curve into a straight line – from “Zero to Hero “– in as short a time as possible. You want to get back on top of your subject matter. You want to find your way back to your comfort zone. You want to be confident in taking big steps. You want to make those difficult decisions, be productive, offer your opinions and advice and navigate relationships with a boss, colleagues and stakeholders who you know.

In her book, Rookie Smarts, Liz Wiseman suggests that pushing through the beginner stage robs us of its benefits. In today’s world, being in the learning mode is more important than knowing. According to Wiseman, a better strategy is to ensure that, whether we are changing jobs or staying in the same one, we toggle between being in a beginner and experienced mind set. Without access to the beginner mode, we become blind to new possibilities and too often we play solo when we should be gathering the support of a broader team. The value of inexperience is that successful rookies seek out expertise, experiment and learn from mistakes. They listen more, learn faster, take action and check frequently for feedback to minimize risk.

Use this practice to cultivate the beginner mindset and behaviors and access this way of thinking whenever you are facing a new challenge.

How does it work?
There are two operating modes: one we are in when we are a beginner and one when we are experienced. These modes are patterns of behavior that we all can slip into and roles that we all tend to assume.
The Beginner Mindset… The Experienced Mindset…
Asking questions

  • Asks fundamental questions
  • Sees new possibilities
  • Take shorter paths & looks for a fresh start

  • Limits what is possible
  • Stays on path
  • Protects relationships & resources
Reaching out to others

  • Reaches out to experts
  • Builds networks
  • Seeks out feedback

  • Has strongly held opinions
  • Looks for data that confirm what they already know
  • Shares their views
Acting quickly

  • Takes swiftly executed small steps
  • Participates in cycles of experimentation
  • Sets up continuous feedback loops
Steadily moving forward

  • Takes big steps
  • Moves at a comfortable pace
  • Assumes they are doing a great job

  • Builds paths through new territories
  • Improvises
  • Works relentlessly
Comfort Zone

  • Relies on what is available
  • Follows protocol
  • Stays in a comfort zone

Ideally, we need to deliberately move between these two mindsets throughout our careers, not only as we move from job to job but also when we are taking on any opportunity. Most of us spend a fair amount of time in the Experienced mode or trying to get there. There are signs, however, that you may need to move to the Beginner Mindset:

  • Things are running smoothly.
  • You are consistently getting positive feedback.
  • Your brain doesn’t have to work hard to be successful.
  • You’ve stopped learning something new each day.
  • You are busy but bored.
  • You’ve become increasingly negative.

Complete the self assessment below to explore the extent to which you are using the Beginner strengths. Place a check mark beside the behaviors which you display consistently. Once completed, identify those behaviors you would like to focus on to become more effective.

Self Assessment – Beginners’ Mindset & Behaviors
  • Asking Questions
    • Asking lots of questions, including basic questions to simplify and clarify
    • Knowing what I don’t know
    • Letting people know I don’t know
    • Challenging my assumptions & those of others
    • Comfortable not having the answers
    • Being in a state of heightened alertness
    • Learning quickly

  • Reaching out to others
    • Asking for help
    • Consulting with experts
    • Having a mentor
    • Participating in reverse mentoring
    • Expanding my network
    • Listening to others
    • Seeking new information & guidance

  • Acting quickly
    • Acting quickly with a cautious but quick mentality
    • Taking small steps to minimize the risk
    • Seeking feedback continually to keep on track
    • Keeping close to what is happening in my environment looking for clues to help move us forward
    • Re-sizing challenges so they aren’t too big
    • Acting boldly and recovering quickly
    • Experimenting

  • Innovating
    • Building new tools & opening new possibilities
    • Relentlessly working on challenges
    • Improvising
    • Investigating beyond immediate boundaries
    • Building paths through new territory
    • Operating in bursts versus steadily
    • Taking on new, stretching responsibilities
Action Plan for developing the Beginners’ Mindset and Behaviors
  • Once you have identified the behaviors you would like to focus on, develop a plan of action for cultivating these.
  • What will it take of you to introduce these new approaches and behaviors? (More curiosity, being humble, playfulness, being more deliberate, or learning to see beyond your habitual perspective.)