Leadership and You

Regardless of how we define “leadership” (as a set of skills, or processes etc.), to invest in leadership development and to strengthen the effectiveness of our leadership, it is essential that we prioritize mindset development.

By Pang Zijun, Head Consulting, Arbinger Singapore/Malaysia | February 22, 2021

According to Harvard Business Review’s article on Jan 17, 2020, organizations worldwide spend roughly $356 billion on leadership development efforts. Yet as much as 75% of the organizations rated their leadership development programs as “not very effective”.

Before looking into hiring another vendor and sending leaders for more skill-based training programs, let’s take a step back and reexamine how we have been defining “leadership”.

There is no doubt that effective leaders possess certain sets of skills which are demonstrated by behaviors necessary to influence, engage and motivate their teams to perform at the highest level. However, our behaviors are not simply single-handedly determined by the skills we possess. In fact, our behaviors are primarily driven by our mindset.

Let’s take a closer look at the link between mindset and effective leadership development.

Imagine the variety of skills that good leaders commonly possess; communication and interpersonal skills, planning and decision making, leadership styles, performance management, goal setting, culture development and many more…

These skills are extremely useful WHEN we apply them. But the more critical questions are, WHEN are we going to use them? With WHOM? And WHY? These more critical questions cannot be answered by the skills alone, in fact, they can only be best answered when we address our mindset.

Naturally, the question now is “why is mindset required for effective leadership development”? While there are many definitions of the word “mindset” and rich and deep academic literatures that identify various mindsets, I would suggest that, having an Outward Mindset is particularly fundamental to developing effective leaders.

The foundation of the Outward Mindset tackles the most important element of being a leader – our relationship with others. Inevitably, believing one’s ability to grow, learn, and develop is critical (growth mindset), but such qualities focus more on an individual level – it is about “my” beliefs and “myself”. The obvious truth is leaders must have a team – people to be led. Because leaders can only exist with the company of other people, how we are in relationship with others becomes the determining factor of our leadership effectiveness.

Although people generally aren’t aware of this, most definitions of leadership are inherently inviting people to focus on only themselves and their own activities and their own levels of performance rather than on the impact of their activities on others. As a result, leadership is also measured in a self-focused way.

However, having an Outward Mindset means, as leaders, we are alive to people around us, we are seeing them as people just like we are. This way of seeing creates an impact-focused approach to how we lead, engage, and interact with others. That means, leaders start to focus more on not only how to be successful themselves (i.e., achieve their own objectives etc.), but also how to enable their teams to be successful.

This move to an outward mindset often dramatically changes the objectives and metrics that people and organizations pursue and utilize. When leaders get serious about moving to more of an outward-mindset approach, they start paying attention to and measuring their impact, not just their activities or outputs, and as a result, they will be able to lead more effectively.