Developing Your Leadership Mindset

develop-leadership-mindsetYou know all too well how complex leadership is. You are faced with a myriad of challenges every day. They can be simple or complex, anticipated or unexpected. To be the best you leader you can be and effectively handle these challenges requires a leadership mindset. This is less about intelligence and more about determination and a relentless commitment to continuous improvement.

Intelligence makes up a small amount of your overall capabilities – only as much as 30 percent by some estimations. The remaining 70 percent comes from effort, resilience, and adaptability.

Don’t get me wrong – what you know matters. It is often the key that unlocks the door to becoming a leader. However, for optimal performance, you must be willing to put in the effort required to continuously learn and improve, embrace the complex and unknown, and pivot amidst adversity to deliver results.

You may be thinking that you have this leadership mindset down. You regularly put in 12-hour days and you get results. That’s great, but there is more to it than that.

Leadership mindset involves:

  • Mindfulness
  • Task orientation
  • Performance focus

Mindfulness is about self-awareness. It requires an honest, accurate understanding of and belief in your abilities. I have worked with and coached an equal number of leaders who have an inflated sense of self as those who are mired in self-doubt. Both views become part of your leadership mindset, yet neither is beneficial to your overall effectiveness as a leader. Mindfulness also includes having a well-defined purpose and confidence to leverage the expertise of others.

Task-orientation refers to how you approach challenges, uncertainty, and ambiguity. Are you comfortable taking risks? Do you have a ‘bring it on’ mentality to challenging tasks? Do you embrace complexity? As a leader, it is easy to operate within our comfort zone. However, a leadership mindset requires purposefully and regularly operating outside of your comfort zone. That is where growth happens.

The final aspect of leadership mindset is being performance focused. This requires continuous improvement. Note that this is not about taking on additional workload. It is about learning from the activities you are already doing. It requires you to pause and reflect, and it is an area where many leaders fall short. There is so much emphasis placed on volume, speed, and results. Rightfully so. However, what often gets sacrificed is learning, reflection and growth. The question is not ‘what are you doing each day?’ It is ‘what are you doing each day to get better?’ Or, ‘what did you learn today?’

Your leadership mindset is developed over time through feedback and experience. It is up to you to seek feedback, pursue challenging tasks, and continue to learn and grow. In fact, developing your leadership mindset requires little incremental time, rather new habits that can be incorporated into your regular routine.

What makes developing a leadership mindset challenging is that it requires vulnerability. You must be willing to accept limitations, seek support from others, and hold yourself accountable for learning. Don’t let a week go by without identifying something specific that you learned.

Some tips for feedback are completing a good, reliable 360 assessment every 12-18 months. That helps you calibrate how you view yourself and how others perceive your leadership. Remember that you are only as good of a leader as others perceive you to be.

From there, a more practical approach to build self-awareness is to give yourself a grade at the end of each week. How did you do as a leader? And, more importantly, what is the rationale for the grade? If you give yourself straight ‘As’ for a month or two, you may have an inaccurate view of self or you are not challenging yourself as a leader. Likewise, if you never give yourself an ‘A’ you may be being too critical or need to take necessary time to plan to get an ‘A.’ Because our view of self is typically off target, don’t rely on this approach alone. Identify additional ways to get regular feedback from others.

Regarding task orientation, you’ll need to step out of your comfort zone. That is up to you but could include seeking feedback, volunteering for a complex initiative, or any number of other activities that challenge you. There are many opportunities to develop yourself each day. You just need to know where to look.

In the last month, how many leadership activities took you outside your comfort zone? Your answer should be at least one, and ideally not more than four. Most importantly, what did you learn from each of those activities?

You can be a leader without a leadership mindset, but you likely will not be a great one.

Timothy Tobin

Timothy Tobin

Timothy J. Tobin, author of Peak Leadership Fitness: Elevating Your Leadership Game, a learning and leadership development professional committed to helping individuals and organizations reach their greatest potential. He is currently vice president, franchisee onboarding and learning at Choice Hotels International, where he oversees the hotel opening processes and learning strategy and programs for all franchisees.

He was previously vice president of global leadership development at Marriott, and held leadership roles at Baker Tilly (formerly Beers + Cutler) and Booz Allen Hamilton, where he designed and implemented a variety of talent management solutions.

A frequent leadership speaker, he has served as an adjunct professor for more than 20 years at the University of Maryland, Catholic University, Trinity University, and George Washington University. For more information, please visit

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