How to Understand and Improve your Mindset as a Developing Leader

Your mindset is a key part of how you operate as a leader. It can govern how you communicate with colleagues and customers, how you react to external factors that affect your business, or even how you plan strategically for the future.

Because of this, it’s essential that you understand your own mindset as well as those of people around you. This is a vital part of emotional intelligence as a leader, and it’ll make it far easier for you to be an effective, even-handed communicator.

Managing mindsets is at its core about knowing yourself. If you don’t know your own mind and how you’re likely to react to things, how can you know and understand what will make you successful as a leader? How can you decide on your leadership style – and crucially, adjust it depending on who you’re leading and when – without knowing what style works for you? Your mindset is a key part of these kinds of thoughts and decisions.

So, how do you encourage self-reflection, and how do you understand and improve your mindset? We’ve written this guide to help – read on to find out our approach and some key tips so you can work on your own mindset as a business leader.

What is a mindset?

Some people find the concept of a mindset difficult to grasp intuitively. But really, your mindset is just about understanding how you think. Your mindset, especially when it comes to your business or work life, is really just the set of assumptions and methods that govern how you interact with people and concepts in the workplace.

Understanding your mindset is the first step on the road towards cohesive systems thinking – about understanding why and how you make decisions and being able to better reflect on your own decision-making process. Your mindset isn’t necessarily a thing that’s completely set in stone or fixed. It’s really just a set of reactions and approaches which can flex and change over time – and you can make use of this.

Taking control of your mindset is about understanding your unconscious biases. For example, you might realise that you often catastrophise when an external event impacts suppliers into your business. This could be one sign of a very defensive mindset. So, once you’ve discovered this you can factor it in to your decision making, and better sense check whether you’re over-reacting to external events.

How do I understand my mindset and those of people around me?

So, how do you go about understanding your own mindset? There are lots of different tools and techniques you can use, and we go into detail on some of these on our Managing Mindsets course. But, a lot of these tools really boil down to a way of listening and interpreting signs, both from yourselves and from people around you.

Understanding mindsets is about taking stock, spotting patterns and being able to identify cognitive biases and ways of thinking. Some simple psychological techniques, like journaling and pattern recognition, alongside some knowledge of common mindsets is a great place to start.

To get started, practice taking notice of your own decisions and why you come to each one. And, if you’re managing a team, try thinking about how your colleagues commonly respond to certain circumstances and events. One way to do this is to use the Chimp Model, which is a technique where you see your brain as being divided into three teams: the mostly-logical human side, the emotionally driven chimp, and the ultra-rational and pre-set computer. By thinking of your brain as split into these three teams, you can begin to manage your own brain, and understand where certain decisions might be coming from.

David Rock’s SCARF model is a way to help you understand the mindsets of others. This model suggests that there are 5 key domains that influence how we react to social behaviours: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. In each of these, we can be affected using threat/reward responses. For example, if a member of your team is reacting poorly to a situation, it may be because the situation is threatening their status, or sense of fairness. Using this model can help you figure out why members of your team might react in a certain way, and adjust your management style to compensate.

As a manager, your mindset will generally have to move from doing, as in working on specific set tasks, to enabling, where your primary job is to reduce friction and allow others to get on with the work itself. This is a different mindset with a different set of strengths and weaknesses that you’ll need to work on – the same way you would with any other skill in the workplace.

How do I improve my mindset?

Once you’ve begun to understand you own mindset and those of others around you, you might start beginning to think about how to improve it, and how to encourage your colleagues and team to work on improving theirs as well.

The first thing to bear in mind is that you might not actually need to. Simply taking notice of your own mindset is a great first step in understanding yourself and overcoming your biases. You might not need to drastically shift and change your mindset – rather, by simply noticing where your mindset may be affecting your decisions and course correcting.

If you do decide to attempt to change your mindset in a more formal way, there are some tools and techniques that you can use – again, we go into detail on these in our course. For example, understanding the theory behind Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can help you appreciate how your mindset might be driven by certain needs that aren’t being met. Taking the time to think about your needs is a helpful way to see what might be underpinning your mindset, and give you an idea on how to begin changing it.

Another common technique is to look at the fixed vs. growth mindsets, as described by psychological Carol Dweck. She outlines two extremely common basic mindsets: fixed and growth. She goes on to suggest that trying to shift from a fixed mindset, in which you believe you can’t change yourself, towards a growth mindset, where you thrive on challenge, is a great way to cultivate a healthy relationship with challenges in your work life, and even with failure.

The important thing here is not to beat yourself up or be too strict over trying to change your mindset. Take a gentle approach and try to improve your reactions to trigger events that you’ve identified as harmful. Remember that your mindset is the process – by subtly altering your reactions to events, you can make a powerful change to your overall positivity and therefore, your mindset.

If you want to understand your mindset better, or you’re a developing leader looking for ways to get started thinking with mindsets, check out our free webinar, coming soon. Or our Managing Mindsets course, available as part of our Leadership Development Programme.

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