By Artell Smith
How does mindset influence leadership style? Can mindset and leadership style be restructured and improved? In a previous blog, I touched on the importance of developing a leadership style unique to you and how developing and improving relationships is key to a fit-for-you leadership style.
But what about mindset and behavior? Are behavioral solutions sufficient to create and maintain a leadership style?
Mindset refers to your prevailing attitudes, beliefs, and perspectives about the world and yourself. It shapes how you interpret experiences, face challenges, and set goals. Your mindset is heavily influenced by past experiences, cultural background, language, geography, education, and more. Mindset can either limit or promote personal growth and adaptability.
In Carol Dweck’s landmark book, Mindset, the New Psychology of Success (2009, Random House), her central thesis is that individuals can hold one of two core beliefs about their capabilities and attendant behaviors: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
Those with a fixed mindset believe that their capabilities are static and unchangeable, leading them to avoid challenges and give up easily when faced with obstacles.
In contrast, individuals with a growth mindset believe their capabilities can be developed through dedication and effort. This perspective fosters a love for learning, resilience in the face of challenges, and a more significant potential for achieving success.
Even if we explored mindset and leadership styles no further than Dweck’s core concept, we could readily see how mindset can influence leadership style. For example, a leader with a fixed mindset is likely to invest little time or energy into improving relationships and nurturing new relationships.
“Skills walk hand in hand with behaviors; behaviors walk hand in hand with leadership style; leadership styles walk hand in hand with mindset.” – Artell Smith
I once coached a leader who was content to interact only with those he had known and worked with regularly over a 30+ year career at the company. I would characterize his mindset like this: “I like what I do, how I do it, and who I do it with better than anything else I can imagine.” Thus, fixed, static, and avoidant. What leadership style behaviors accompany the fixed mindset?
- Innovation and continuous improvement initiatives are seen as distractions and go unsupported.
- Learning efforts are restricted to only those that support the status quo.
What was the result of these fixed mindset behaviors? Very few new thoughts, ideas, or people were ever introduced into his environment for consideration.
I can share another personal example on the flip side of the mindset coin, i.e., growth mindset. I once worked with a leader who approached every day as an opportunity to learn new things, meet new people, and be a proponent of possibility thinking. This leader wanted the organization and its people to be flexible, resilient, and successful in all the ways that mattered most. What leadership style behaviors accompany the growth mindset?
- Frequent brainstorming opportunities with employees to surface the best ideas for review and action.
- Active promotion of learning and development experiences, focusing on new skill acquisition and application.
Behavioral Competencies and Mindset
I believe in the need for well-defined behavioral competencies to support leaders in their quest to run organizations and lead people. Examples of leadership competencies include emotional intelligence, adaptability and flexibility, and team building. My belief about the importance of behavioral competencies has graduated into my mindset where it lives rent-free!
I’ve debated with colleagues whether mindset drives behaviors or whether behaviors drive mindset. As is sometimes the issue with these sorts of questions—especially questions that touch on the brain’s executive function—the only correct answer is that it depends.
Any skill can be taught. Some skills are more challenging to acquire than others. Some leaders find it very easy to engage in coaching conversations. It may be because of their prior experiences being coached by someone else. Or it may be a natural extroversion and inquisitive personality. Whatever the reason, the coaching competency comes easily.
For other leaders, this may not be true. Perhaps they’ve never experienced an excellent coach. Or they may resist the notion that they’re proficient enough in a particular skill to qualify as a coach. An established, existing mindset that sidesteps the importance of coaching can be a stumbling block to exhibiting the right behaviors when needed.
Embedding Behaviors into Mindset
It is possible to teach a leader how to coach, regardless of mindset, if they can at least admit it’s essential for their team members and are willing to try.
With practice and interim successes, the coaching-resistant leader will begin to disregard their existing mindset and build a new one. Mindset change is gradual but can and does happen. A leader’s style changes with enough practice at exhibiting the behaviors aligned with a coaching skillset.
Skills walk hand in hand with behaviors; behaviors walk hand in hand with leadership style; leadership styles walk hand in hand with mindset.
Elasticity of Behaviors
New behaviors are very elastic. A new behavior, however successful, can sometimes snap back to a former behavior, just like rubber bands return to their original state after being stretched. In such a moment, some or all the progress made toward exhibiting behaviors you desire to be part of your unique leadership style is given up.
Suppose your leadership style currently needs more self-regulation behaviors. When you get annoyed or impatient, you tend toward outbursts that dampen conversation and bring down morale. You desire to leave outbursts out of your leadership style and instead become patient, curious, and more empathetic toward others.
Unfortunately, six months into your new leadership style transformation, you fall victim to an outburst that makes a negative impression on your team members, especially the new employees who have never witnessed an outburst. Your progress is immediately erased, even though you apologize quickly and make amends.
Taking the Next Step
How can we create a durable, sustainable, and unique leadership style that serves the purposes of those around us? A good question I’ll address in my next blog.
Are you looking to further develop your leadership behaviors, improve your skills and leadership style, or evolve your mindset? CPED’s high-impact coaching services can help you achieve professional and personal growth goals. We offer six-hour, nine-hour, and 12-hour one-on-one leadership coaching. Learn about our leadership coaching services and discover how this personalized development can help you as you develop your unique leadership style.
Artell has extensive experience in human resources management, advising and focusing on overall people strategy, talent management/development, and compensation/benefits. He has led transformative projects across all aspects of HR work globally, including talent development, generalist services, operations, technology, and global sourcing. Artell currently serves as principal and managing director of WatchWorks Management Consulting LLC. He has also authored two books, “No Time to Waste” (April 2023, iUniverse) and “Engage.Coach.Develop” (October 2023, iUniverse).