The Four Mindsets Necessary for Effective Leadership

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Which leader is going to be more effective?

  • Leader A sees:
    • Stepping away from the “proven formula” as something to be avoided.
    • Vulnerability as a sign of weakness.
    • Fires and problems as things that need to be avoided.
    • Themselves as more important than others.
  • Leader B sees:
    • Stepping away from the “proven formula” as necessary for navigating into the future.
    • Vulnerability as a sign of strength.
    • Fires and problems as part of the experience of pushing boundaries and growth.
    • Others as just as important as themselves.

 

Of course, it is Leader B!

But, what research has found is that most leaders have some strong “Leader A” tendencies, limiting their effectiveness as leaders.

What is the difference between these two leaders?

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The difference is not a matter of knowledge, skills, or ability (KSAs). The difference is in their mindsets.

In fact, 40+ years of psychological and neuroscience research has led psychologists and neuroscientists to identify mindsets as the most foundational aspect for our success in life, work, and leadership. Yet, it is common for organizations to focus more on KSAs than mindsets.

In this article, I want to introduce the four mindsets necessary for effective leadership (each of which has 40 years of research backing) and provide guidance on how you can improve mindsets to elevate your effectiveness or that of your leaders.

Mindset Basics

Before we get into those four mindsets, let me share some valuable insights about mindsets:

  1. Every single one of us has mindsets. Our mindsets are mental processing habits and tendencies that shape our beliefs, thinking, and actions. As such, our mindsets shape our effectiveness.
  2. We are prone to believe that our mindsets are ideal (Leader A likely believed that they had ideal mindsets).
  3. While people believe that their mindsets are ideal, the reality is that people’s mindsets vary in quality, sophistication, and effectiveness (as we saw in the difference between Leader A and Leader B).
  4. When a leader possesses low-quality mindsets (Leader A), they will not operate as an effective leader. But, when a leader possesses high-quality mindsets (Leader B), they will operate as an effective leader.

Because of the foundational role our mindsets play in our leadership, it is vital that we learn what mindsets are “out there,” what mindsets we currently have, and what mindsets might be better for us to have.

The Four Mindsets Necessary for Effective Leadership

Mindset researchers generally study mindsets in pairs, representing a continuum of quality with one mindset being of high quality and the other mindset being of low quality. There are four such pairs or continuums of mindsets that have received significant research attention over the last 40 years.

Fixed, closed, prevention, and inward are self-protective mindsets while growth, open, promotion, and outward are value creating mindsets

When you know about these pairs, you will be able to better assess the quality of your and others’ mindsets, as well as gain clarity on what mindsets you may need to focus on for your own development or that of your leaders.

So, let’s identify these pairs, and in so doing, we will identify four high-quality mindsets necessary for effective leadership.

Fixed and Growth Mindsets – A Growth Mindset is Necessary for Effective Leadership

People with a fixed mindset believe that they and others cannot change their talents, abilities, and intelligence. They “are who they are and there is nothing they can do about it.” If something doesn’t come naturally to them or if they fail, they see themselves as inadequate or a failure. And, wanting to avoid seeing themselves in this way, they are deeply wired to avoid failure. As such, they are prone to operate like Leader A, and are resistant to step away from the “proven formula” of what has worked in the past.

People with a growth mindset believe that they and others can change their talents, abilities, and intelligence. They see themselves as only the shadow of what they can be. If something doesn’t come naturally to them or if they fail, they see that as a sign that they need to “up their game.” And, knowing that failure is valuable in the learning process, they do not shy away from the prospect of failure. As such, they are prone to operate like Leader B, and are willing to step away from the “proven formula” of what has worked in the past to be agile and future-ready.

Closed and Open Mindsets – An Open Mindset is Necessary for Effective Leadership

People with a closed mindset believe that what they know is best. They want to be right and have their ideas supported. They are more inclined to provide answers than ask questions, and as such, they are largely “out of touch.” One of their biggest fears is of being wrong or being seen as weak. As such, they are prone to operate like Leader A, and see vulnerability as a weakness, leading them to “armor up” as the person “in charge.”

People with an open mindset believe that they can be wrong. They desire to find truth and think optimally. They are more inclined to ask questions than provide answers, and they are largely “in touch.” They are not worried about being wrong or being vulnerable. They see being wrong and/or vulnerable as stepping stones to truth and connection. They are prone to operate like Leader B, and see vulnerability as a strength, leading them to lead authentically.

Prevention and Promotion Mindsets – A Promotion Mindset is Necessary for Effective Leadership

People with a prevention mindset are focused on avoiding problems. They see problems as a nuisance that disrupts their comfort. As such, they tend to shy away from problems, conflict, risk, or anything else that might disturb their peace. In so doing, they are prone to operate like Leader A. They are cautious about any fires occurring, and if fires do occur, they rush in to put out those fires as quickly as possible, going to great lengths to make sure no fire like that ever occurs again (micromanagement leading to greater bureaucracy).

People with a promotion mindset are focused on accomplishing a clear, inspirational, and stakeholder-centric purpose. They know that to continually improve their ability to create value for their stakeholders, they are going to have to try new things and push the limits of their current operation. When they do that, they know problems will occur. While they don’t love problems, they know that they can’t avoid them, and thus create space for them. This allows them to operate like Leader B.

Inward and Outward Mindsets – An Outward Mindset is Necessary for Effective Leadership

People with an inward mindset see themselves as more important than others. This makes them prone to see others as objects. They are prone to see their customers as dollar signs and their employees as tools. In so doing, they are prone to operate like Leader A and generally operate as a narcissistic, ego-driven leader.

People with an outward mindset see others as being just as important as themselves. This makes them prone to see others as people. They are prone to see their customers as people to serve and their employees as valuable partners. In so doing, they are more prone to operate like Leader B and generally operate as a humble, servant leader.

Improving the Quality of Mindsets for Greater Leadership Effectiveness

Good news: we can shift and improve our mindsets. And, it is easier than most people think.

Shifting our mindsets is not too different than learning how to count to 10 in a different language. There are only two necessary steps.

Step 1 – Learn the Language

When learning how to count to 10 in a different language, I need to put words to the numbers.

If I want to improve my mindsets, I need to have labels for mindsets and awaken to the quality of my own mindsets.

We have largely done this step with this article. We have identified specific mindsets, described them, and given you a tool to assess the quality of your mindsets.

Step 2 – Practice the Language

When learning how to count to 10 in a different language, once I know the language, I need to practice. Generally, this means practicing counting to 10 in that language for about 5­-10 minutes a day on a daily basis. In the course of a month, you will be fluent in counting to 10 in that language.

If we want to develop more value-creating mindsets (growth, open, promotion, and outward), mindset research reveals that we need to spend 5­-10 minutes a day activating, exercising, and strengthening our value-creating mindsets. Exercises well-suited for shifting our mindsets include reading books/articles on the mindsets, listening to podcasts on the mindsets, watching videos about the mindsets, journaling about the mindsets, having discussions about the mindsets, working on improving our self-talk, and meditating.

Conclusion

After reading this article, consider the following questions:

  • Do you focus on mindsets in your leadership and employee development efforts?
  • Do you focus on all four of the value-creating mindsets?
  • Do you have a clear way to assess the current quality of your leaders’ and employees’ mindsets?
  • How can you better employ a focus on mindsets to elevate your leaders and employees?

Mindsets truly are at the foundation of great leadership.

Author
Headshot of Ryan Gottfredson
Ryan Gottfredson

Ryan Gottfredson, Ph.D., is a cutting-edge leadership development author, researcher, and consultant. He helps organizations vertically develop their leaders primarily through a focus on mindsets. Ryan is the Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-selling author of Success Mindsets: The Key to Unlocking Greater Success in Your Life, Work, & Leadership and The Elevated Leader: Leveling Up Your Leadership Through Vertical Development.

He is the founder and owner of his consulting company, Ryan Gottfredson LLC, where he specializes in elevating leaders and executive teams in a manner that elevates the organization and its culture. He has worked with top leadership teams at CVS Health (top 130 leaders), Deutsche Telekom (500+ of their top 2,000 leaders), Experian, and others. He has also partnered with dozens of organizations (e.g., Federal Reserve Bank, Nationwide Insurance, Cook Medical) to develop thousands of mid-level managers and high-level leaders.

He is also a leadership professor at the College of Business and Economics at California State University-Fullerton. He holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Human Resources from Indiana University, and a B.A. from Brigham Young University. As a respected authority and researcher on topics related to leadership, management, and organizational behavior, Ryan has published over 20 articles across a variety of journals including: Leadership Quarterly, Journal of Management, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Business Horizons, Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, and Journal of Leadership Studies. His research has been cited over 4,000 times since 2018.

Connect with Ryan on LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and at ryangottfredson.com.

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One Response

  1. Ryan, I appreciate your insights on effective leadership mindsets. It’s intriguing how mindsets, rather than just skills, shape leadership effectiveness. Leader B’s approach, embracing growth and openness, definitely aligns with impactful leadership.

    Regarding your point on mindset quality, ONA can be a tool to understand and improve these aspects in a team, offering a clearer view of interpersonal dynamics and leadership styles. How do you think leaders can practically incorporate ONA to foster these high-quality mindsets?

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