2009 wasn’t a good year for me. While the rest of world was reeling from one of the biggest financial meltdowns in recent history, I was dealing with a meltdown of my own. I’d been a psychological coach, trainer, and management consultant for nine years by then, and I
was in the middle of a nervous breakdown. It wasn’t a lot of fun – in fact, it’s not something you’d wish on your worst enemy – but for me it was a turning point.
I re-evaluated everything in my life and one of those things was what I was doing professionally. You know that old adage if you give a person a hammer, every problem they come across is a nail ? Well, I saw clearly how that applied to training and management consulting and, in doing so, I began to lose faith in the ability of both to create long-term change. I began to lose faith for the simple reason that training gives people hammers in the form of techniques, and although those hammers may work in some instances – when your problem is a proverbial nail – they aren’t flexible enough to work beyond the situation they’re designed for. I lost faith in consulting because it’s mostly about imposing a business model on an organization. That works for the immediate problem, or for as long as the consultant’s there, but tends to slip when the consultant goes or the
So I stopped working for a while and tried to find an approach that would create long-term change. One that would be flexible enough to address not just current challenges but problems coming down the road – ones my clients couldn’t even see yet.
What I did during that time was think. A lot. I thought about what clients really want. About why, in a multibillion-dollar training and consulting industry, clients are willing to accept that their investment won’t create long-term change.
I began to think about successful change in all its forms. What makes some people successfully quit smoking, get fit, or pivot quickly into a new career? I wondered what happens before a business can create a culture change, or before a senior team can align around a common strategy.
So there I am in the middle of a nervous breakdown, thinking that this was the worst thing that ever happened to me, cursing the circumstances that led me to it, and wondering how to make what I did for a living work better. In case you’re wondering, the irony did elude me at the time. But eventually I saw it: the question I was asking of my work was the answer I needed in my personal life. I saw clearly that before I could get out of the breakdown, I needed to think differently. The thought was as simple as it was obvious: that before we can make any change – personal, professional, or organizational – we need to think differently about the challenge
Enter leadership mindset stage left.
Mindset because before anything can change, we need to think differently. Leadership because before something can change, we need to be willing to take personal responsibility for making that change happen. Because mindset can be a nebulous concept, I worked to identify the attributes of a leadership mindset – the qualities and behaviours that embody this way of thinking. Looked at like that, solving personal or professional challenges becomes a two-step process:
- Grow the six attributes of a leadership mindset.
- Apply that shift in thinking to the challenge you’re facing.
By doing that, we not only develop a new way of thinking; when we apply the six attributes to our challenges, we come up with revolutionarily different solutions because we see different possibilities in those challenges.
It would be disingenuous of me to say that it’s easy to embed the six attributes. It happens with effort and practice over time. For some it may be an easy shift to make, for others it may require a 180-degree change in perspective.
The point of this book is to share the ideas that make up the six attributes: what they are, how they work, and how to use them to grow our own leadership mindset. I’ve developed these ideas through observations of the people and businesses I’ve worked with. I’ve used this approach in the consulting work I do, helping leaders shift their thinking to address the challenges in their teams or businesses. But because I started thinking about the approach in the middle of a personal breakdown, I’m also offering it as a way to navigate through life. Maybe that’s not so different. After all, businesses are run by people.
The promise of the six attributes is that we can create real, meaningful, and self-sustainable change. But the benefits don’t end there. Perhaps the real gift of the six attributes is that we can all grow our mindsets. Do that, and as we lead our way through life, we make a difference to ourselves and to the lives we touch.
My hope is that this becomes a handbook of sorts. In the following pages I’ll begin by defining a leadership mindset and looking at some of the challenges to living the six attributes. From there I’ll go over the behaviours of each attribute and offer a few challenges you can use to grow them. That’s what I mean about it being a handbook: it doesn’t have to be read in order. Each chapter explores a different attribute. Begin with the one that most interests you, try out the challenges and develop that attribute in yourself for a while. When you feel you’re making headway, pick another one. Read that chapter and give those challenges a go.
There’s no rush. Like I said, the six attributes build with effort and practice over time. This book will still be here, so feel free to take it at your own pace.