Developing a Leadership Mindset

October 25, 2017
October 25, 2017 Joe Britto

If we want to lead we have to start at a personal level by leading ourselves first. This is true whether we’re heading up senior teams that make decisions affecting large numbers of employees. Or we’re nervous teenagers braving the first day of a new weekend job.

We get opportunities to lead ourselves every day. Each of us is the CEOs of Our Lives Inc.

And, as our very own CEOs, what guides us through life and business is a leadership mindset. Not the plethora of management models and leadership skill-sets we’re often told we need to master.

Leadership Mindset: Why We Need It

But what’s a leadership mindset?

Well, at its core a leadership mindset is a way of thinking and behaving that means we’re willing to stand up and to stand out.

And this isn’t simply when we’re sure of ourselves and our vision. Leading when we have confidence, a clear direction and the right information to hand isn’t a big challenge.

It’s those times when we’re operating in an uncertain and volatile environment and the information keeps changing. That’s when a leadership mindset comes into its own.

Why? Well, unpredictability often causes risk aversion. We want to stick with the status quo because it’s familiar. Yet the drive to favour the familiar can also stop us leading, because when we lead we necessarily stand out.

It’s a leadership mindset that gives us the backbone we need to risk standing out and going against the grain. That decision to stand out is one we can only make at a personal level. And that’s why developing a leadership mindset starts at the individual level by leading yourself first.

Growing a Leadership Mindset

Challenging stuff maybe? Well, there’s good news too. Although a leadership mindset isn’t a skill we learn through models, it’s also not a ‘magical’ quality only a few special beings have. And while I won’t pretend it’s easy, a leadership mindset is something we can all develop with effort and practice over time.

A leadership mindset consists of seven specific mindset qualities that have corresponding behaviours.

And some more good news: these mindset qualities and behaviours are symbiotic – they feed off and reinforce each other. This means you can start by trying out any aspect of a leadership mindset or its corresponding behaviours. So if a particular mindset quality is difficult then practising one of the behaviours will affect your mindset in any case.

So what are these mindset qualities and behaviours? In this blog I’ll take a look at three of the seven leadership mindset qualities.


Mindfulness is a hot trend right now, especially in the business and leadership spheres. And even if it seems like yet another business fad, mindfulness is actually a practice I’d encourage anyone to delve into.

So what’s useful about mindfulness? Stripped down to its core, mindfulness is about being fully aware of what’s happening in the present moment, with full acceptance.

Mindfulness gives us the mental clarity to see what’s really happening instead of what we fear is happening. It helps us to lead because we can make decisions in a mental state that’s free from high stress and perceived necessities.

How can we build mindfulness as part of a leadership mindset? A meditation practice is one way, but if that doesn’t sound like your thing there are mindful behaviours you can practice in your daily business life.

Trying out these behaviours in a meeting is a good place to start because it gives you lots of opportunities for being present. I suggest you begin by focusing your attention on the people around you, and tuning into what they’re saying, instead of focusing on your own thoughts and planning what you’re going to say next.

Observing Without Judgement

This leadership mindset quality often gets a few surprised looks if not actual resistance when I raise it in my consultancy work. How can we lead without making judgements? It’s a good question and observing without judgement isn’t about being passive and avoiding decision making.

Essentially, observing without judgement is the opposite of making reactive decisions. It’s about taking in all the information and making decisions – at the right time. It’s about listening to people – even when we think they’re wrong.

Reacting to events and making quick judgements is often a habit. If we want to break that habit a good place to start is with our team members and colleagues: the aim is to bring a generosity of spirit to how we interact with others.

My tip: if it feels like a team member is blocking progress on a project for no reason, observe your reaction, put it to one side and try to understand their point of view. When we offer a different response from our usual reaction we’re more likely to get a different outcome.

Flexibility of Mind

Whether it’s a work or a personal project, it’s probably fair to say most of us have experienced that moment when we realise a cherished idea just isn’t going to work.

Our realisation often comes because we finally notice (or someone points out) that we’ve gone off track. Why? Because we’ve been holding so tightly on to our incredible idea we’ve made all kinds of unnecessary changes to the project.

Flexibility of mind is about not holding onto ideas when it becomes clear they won’t work.  Try investigating your idea by starting with the thought “what if I’m wrong?” After all, it’s just an idea, not a core part of your identity.

When we practise flexibility of mind as part of a leadership mindset we often need to say things others don’t want to hear. By trying it out with your own ideas first it becomes easier to practise flexibility of mind with team members’ ideas too.

The Journey Starts Here

I understand these are easy things to say and hard things to actually do.

You can grow a leadership mindset by practising the behaviours whatever your role or stage in your career. It takes effort and practice over time for the mindset and behaviours of leadership to take hold. And when they do they become a way of thinking and being.

Getting there takes a commitment to try out one quality or practise one behaviour. And keep practising every day.

And because a leadership mindset is a virtuous circle that one behaviour changes us and the people around us for the better.

As I said at the beginning, all leadership starts on a personal level. And the journey toward a leadership mindset does too.


A version of this blog first appeared on the World of Learning 2017 blog.


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