GROWTH MINDSET -A Leadership Lesson From Top CEOs

The ‘Forrest Gump’ movie is about a guy named Forrest Gump(Tom Hanks), a slow-witted, low IQ guy, who goes on to become a college football star. After college, he enlists himself in the US Army, goes to Vietnam, saves many of his platoons during an ambush, receives ‘Medal Of Honor’ for his bravery and becomes famous. Later, he discovers a talent for Ping Pong, becomes a celebrity. After retiring from the Army, he starts Shrimping business, as promised to his friend and grows into a millionaire.


At the beginning of the movie, Forrest Gump(Tom Hanks) says “My momma always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get’.”

In 1946, Lee Iacocca joined Ford Motor Company as an engineering intern. Within a few months, he was bored with his work and requested his management team to move him to the sales & marketing department. That was a turning point in his life. He enjoyed the sales job and began to rise in his profession. By 1960, he became Vice-President & General Manager of the Ford Division. His first full-fledged new car development project after becoming VP was ‘Mustang’ & it went on to become a massive hit among the younger generation of the time. By 1978, he became President of Ford division. He proceeded to design and launch some more successful cars. He successfully transformed Ford’s failing Mercury brand.

After leaving Ford, Lee joined as CEO for Chrysler without knowing that the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. Many thought that Lee had chosen to fail. Countless experts believed that Chrysler’s days were numbered. However, Lee worked hard and successfully turned around the company to everyone’s surprise.

Lee Iacocca himself would not have known what he would become — Even his mentors or his parents could not predict how his life would turn out to be. His life proved that a person’s true potential is unknown. With years of passion, toil, and training, we can accomplish things that we would not have imagined.

Forrest Gump himself would not have known what he would become — Even his mother or his caring girlfriend could not predict how his life would turn out to be.


While serving as an engineer in Ford’s production unit, Lee Iacocca realised that he no longer desired the engineering work and observed that the real action happened in marketing and sales. Lee believed that a sound performance in marketing and sales would surely propel him soon to the top management position. Unfortunately, he had no sales experience. He also knew that he had no natural talent for marketing. Still, Lee believed that a good salesman is not born but made.

Overcoming Challenges -In the initial phase of his marketing career, Lee was anxious, tensed & jittery whenever he interacted with potential buyers. On the other hand, his colleagues were relaxed and had an outgoing personality. That did not deter him. He observed as much as possible from other salesmen and slowly learned to talk without anxiety. He learned to communicate clearly and also mastered how to present in such a way that people would listen. He started to observe and listen to his customers as much as possible. He began to understand them better. It helped him in customizing the marketing content & solutions. Slowly, he began to enjoy his work.

Lee Iacocca’s success in the marketing field shows that one’s skills, abilities, intelligence are not fixed or carved in stone and can be changed. Lee improved his attention to details -He started to observe the customer’s body language and change in behaviour -He trained himself to communicate clearly. Lee learned the art of persuasion -He mastered the presentation skills. Lee practiced public speaking -He learned to think like a customer. With his efforts and also help from others, Lee developed those essential skills through deliberate practice.

Similarly, in the movie, Forrest Gump improves his attention, memory, judging ability, athletic ability, intelligence through his efforts, systematic training and with the help of others.

Lee and Forrest Gump’s accomplishment proves that anyone can grow the necessary skills and ability. They also demonstrated that effort is what makes a person gifted or capable.


Mrs.Gump aspires his junior Forrest Gump to have the most excellent education and takes him to a reputable school. The school principal declines him saying that Forrest is five points below the average I.Q required for admission.

Mrs.Gump persists “What does normal mean anyway? He might be a bit on the slow side, but my boy Forrest will get the same opportunities as everyone else. He’s not going to some special school to learn how to retread tires”.

She firmly believed that Forrest would eventually succeed in life although he may have to put a little bit of extra effort, in comparison to others.

Mrs.Gump taught Forrest Gump how to be grittier, how to be happy to put extra effort.

In Shrimping business, Forrest Gump faces consecutive failures. However, he is not discouraged — Perhaps he thinks that he is not failing but learning the business. He perseveres with a passion(gritty), stretches himself, sticks to the tasks or routines even things were not going well. This gritty nature assists him and his partner Dan thrive the most challenging circumstance when Hurricane Carmen rips through the Gulf Of Mexico and finally, they find themselves in an abundance of shrimp.

Lee Iacocca had no sales experience when he joined Ford’s sales department. He also knew that he had no natural talent for marketing & felt that mastering the skills of salesmanship would demand time and effort. He perceived that he might have to put extra effort, in comparison to others. It would not be a mindless effort -A very focussed effort on a small part of essential skills or activities and incrementally improving them. He had to practice some of the skills over and over again. He was determined and consistently committed. With sustained interest and through deliberate practice, Lee was aware that those sales skills would soon become a habit for him. He was willing to be patient. Eventually, within three years, Lee grew into a role where he taught the dealers on the art of selling the product to customers.

Psychologist Angela Duckworth, in her book ‘Grit’, says that intelligence or talent might not be the best indicator of future success. Instead, she credits “grit” a combination of passion and perseverance for success.

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Lee and Forrest Gump showed that one’s skills, abilities are not fixed and can be changed or developed through dedication, determination, consistent commitment, hard work and deliberate practice which is nothing but ‘The Growth Mindset’.

References: Mindset by Carol Dweck, Grit by Angela Duckworth, Iacocca-An Autobiography, Forrest Gump Movie.

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