Need a New Leadership Mindset?

Follow the Leader

If you're in any kind of management position, you've probably read countless books about leadership: ones that offer examples of who to emulate and exercises designed to rejuvenate or reset behaviors.

A new tome from two McKinsey consultants — Centered Leadership: Leading with Purpose, Clarity and Impact — focuses narrowly on one big theme: how an organization's mindset or the attitudes of its employees, and its leaders, can influence specific outcomes.

"A leader's failure to recognize and shift mind-sets can stall the change efforts of an entire organization," write the co-authors, Joanna Barsh and Johanne Lavoie, in a McKinsey Quarterly article. "Indeed, because of the underlying power of a leader's mindset to guide an organization toward positive change, any effort to become leaders should start with ourselves by recognizing the thoughts, feelings and emotions that drive us."

What Barsh and Lavoie advocate is, essentially, a form of heightened self-awareness, and they suggest five exercises designed to help executives and managers achieve that state.

1. Identify strengths, not just shortcomings.

Many leaders have a tendency to focus on what's wrong within themselves, their teams or their organizations, rather than seeking to find what's right. "For many executives, this pervasive focus on weaknesses fosters a mind-set of scarcity: a feeling that there are too few talented people in the organization to help it move the mountains that need moving," the authors write.

Been there, done that? The authors suggest a self-reflection exercise that centers on different phases of your life: as a small child, a young adult, and within a working situation. By asking questions such as "What activities draw you in so entirely that you lose track of time?" or "What boosts your energy?", leaders can identify their own strengths, the authors suggest. By remembering to play to your strengths and the ones of those around you, you might have a better chance at creating "magic."

2. Learn how to respond in the moment more productively.

Most of us have some sort of visceral, emotional response to every new challenge, deadline or crisis without thinking even though more often than not this response is counterproductive. "By figuring out how to pause and re-engage our 'thinking' brains (the partners governing executive functions such as reasoning and problem-solving), we can make the shift from a mindset of threat avoidance (a fear of losing) to one of learning and getting the most out of the moment," the authors note.

3. Understand what instills trust.

Apparently, there are four variables that affect whether or not we interpret or view someone as trustworthy. They are reliability, congruence, acceptance and openness. Taking time to figure out what matters within a given team situation can improve interactions. "When you shift your mindset from 'trustworthy people are a scarce resource' to 'I can inspire almost everyone to trust me more,' your community of supporters will expand effortlessly," Barsh and Lavoie note.