Tackle Leader Mindset First

Have you wondered why all the money spent on development programs has not changed the behavior of your leaders?  You need to tackle leaders’ mindsets first.

Traditional training targets skill development. This is useless if leaders do not:

  • see the value in focusing their precious time on learning new or better ways than they already know or rely on (waste of time thinking)
  • think they can, or worse, want to change (old dog, new tricks thinking)
  • believe their single contribution will actually have an impact (who will really notice thinking)

Here’s an example of mindset in action. I was working with the senior team of a healthcare organization.  At the beginning of the morning we did the typical setting of ground rules that would guide behavior for the participants and the facilitators. You know the one. If you’re like most, you’ve seen this as the facilitator’s way of getting you to pay attention, to invest in your own development, or not distract those who are keen around you. 

During this exercise one leader commented that he had just attended a world famous leadership program at a top notch university. It was someone’s sole job to stand with a box at the door while all the leaders placed their phones in the box in the morning, and then again as they retrieved it in the evening.   

In the first half hour with the top leadership of this organization I was given the first gift of exploring the leadership mindset.  To this story I replied, “Hmmm, I’m curious. We certainly can do that. <Pause> Do you need us to treat you that way?” 

After a few moments of silence, leaders started speaking up about having the discipline to monitor their own focus and behavior.  We also talked about how they would hold each other accountable.  For me this is a critical example of an opportunity to explore defaults, shift mindsets and practice critical skills of focus and prioritization that leaders desperately need today.

We can offer all the skill development courses we want, but if we can’t help leaders examine their mindsets and identify and modify their defaults, then nothing is going to change.