The Beginning: Mindset and Skillset
To be a leader, we believe there is a foundational set of skills needed to navigate the complexities of business, social, and cultural challenges in today’s world. These foundational skills allow a person to be a flexible leader. One who has access to the best of themselves and has the ability to bring out the best in others.
The best may not always be a smiling face. Occasionally you might need to get into an argument with another person to stand for your point of view. In this situation, it is good to know what is at stake for you and what your options are in managing conflict. These are skills you learn in our courses.
This foundational skillset will allow you to take appropriate action, behave in productive ways, and increase your strategic capabilities when dealing with common challenges that occur in any group.
Though to apply the skillset associated with conflict for example, you must also have a mindset that conflict is productive.
Mindset is a series of beliefs, mental models, and personal narratives you have about the way the world is or should be. If you have the mindset that conflict is scary, it is unlikely you will apply the skillset as you are habituated to avoiding conflict.
This mindset has served you over the years. You have developed a competency, a skillset, around your mindset to avoid, deflect, or diffuse conflict. This skillset may be useful in many situations. Yet, as a leader in a complex world, you may need to expand your skillset to have more choices in how you manage conflict and shift your mindset to accepting conflict as a method of engagement to make the skillset possible.
We believe “leadership is a process of social influence where one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.” Nowhere in this definition does it mention that you must have a certain role to be a leader.
In healthy systems, leaders are everywhere. They are not the oligarchical leaders who command and control. They are the flexible leaders mentioned above. The leaders who have choices in their mindset and skillset and use these choices to create the best outcomes from every situation – even if they are not faced with good choices.
As leaders, there are choices we make all day long to drive the business need. We also – whether we are conscious of it or not – make choices to drive the relationship needs. These choices can sometimes be at odds.
Be speedy but gather everyone’s opinion – means you may miss some perspectives, shorten some conversations, cut some corners in relationship to satisfy the goal of speed. Or the opposite – spend too much time mired in the relationship and neglect to finish on time.
These are called competing commitments. They can range from disturbingly complex to mindbogglingly simple. As a leader, we must become aware of and comfortable with this tension to successfully navigate any business.
Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset – Implicit Bias
To be a leader in the world, and socially influence others through balancing business and relationship needs, we must be influencable. A growth mindset is required.
A fixed mindset means we believe there is only one way to do something and if we cannot achieve it that way, it cannot be done. Failure is not an option.
A growth mindset allows for flexibility in the way something gets done. This promotes innovation, failure, and alternative ways of doing and being.
What each individual believes to be possible is shaped by their early lived experiences. We see the world through a particular lens. Everyone’s lens is unique to them, though they may contain similarities of experience, we can never have the same exact perspective – even if we are identical twins from the same family.
This shaping is called implicit bias. We all have one. A blind spot. Through having a growth mindset, we can learn about our lens. When our mindset is fixed, we are limited in what we learn about our self, others, or the world. This leads to a general sense of distrust of people and systems.
Because our response to any situation is based on our mindset, skillset, and implicit biases, we have limited capabilities. We can expand these capabilities, expand our lens, and decrease our bias through the practice of directing our attention.
Directing Our Attention – Commitment
When we direct our attention somewhere, energy follows. If I ask you to place your attention on your feet. You will likely feel something in your feet. This is the power of our attention.
Was there something happening in your feet all along or did you manifest that through your attention? The answer is both.
Most of us do not actively direct our attention anywhere other than to a task. We let the relationship aspects of our life move through our minds like wildfires. Burning, disrupting, and challenging our belief in our self, others, and the world. We have no way to understand how the fire got started nor contain the fire.
Commitment, goals, objectives are helpful ways of directing our attention, but focusing these goals on the relationship aspect of being a balanced leader is rarely done well. We must commit to not only the task, but the relationship as well.
To grow as a leader, we often travel through some very uncomfortable stages when mastering certain concepts. First, we are unconsciously incompetent – we don’t even know we don’t know something.
Then we gain awareness and become consciously competent. This part is painful. As we expand the lens through which we see the world and subsequently reflect on our lives. When we do this, we see the times when we moved through the world unconscious. This can lead to regret and a strong desire to hide; coupled with a knowing that repair is possible through the new skills we are learning.
The next stage is consciously competent. This means we are actively directing our attention via our commitment to mastering a certain skill. We are open to learning from others. We are settled with making mistakes because we know where we are headed.
Eventually, depending on how much we practice, we achieve an unconscious competence. This is where we use the skills and have the mindset without needing to think very much about it. A lovely place to be. And we become more comfortable knowing that growth happens all throughout our lives. Which means sooner than we like we will be back at unconscious incompetence.
To grow into the leader we hope to become takes practice. We must name a growth state – a commitment. We must know why it is important to get there. We must know what it will look like when we arrive. And then we must practice. Which means occasionally failing.
This is where a supportive community comes into play. Whether this is a family system, a faith community, a workplace, or a neighborhood, if we practice in a place where others are also learning, we can catalyze something very few people ever get to feel – a growth culture.
When we are in a culture that encourages growth, we all exponentially boost our learning capability. Our neural networks work not only through practice of the skills our self and the shifting of our mindset. They also work limbically through our mirror neurons. If we are committed to something deeply important to our growth, and so are others in our community, together we build the neural capacity for collective growth.
We forward our ability through community. We become leaders with social influence not only with what we do and say, but also with simply who we are. Now this is powerful leadership.
This builds the body and mind of a leader who can stand in the face of disruption, make choices, build relationships, and achieve the tasks at hand. This is the leader the world needs.
 Chemers, Martin M. An Integrative Theory of Leadership. 1997: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Marwah, NJ.