Companies the world over spend huge sums each year on leadership development—from coaches to consultants to AI based training programs. In fact, a Deloitte study found that American companies spend almost $14 billion annually on leadership development training. However, if you talk to most CEOs and C-suite executives, they will likely say that leadership development programs are often a fail. A study published last year in The Leadership Quarterly found that most leadership development programs overlook one major and pivotal facet that is at the core of how leaders think, make decisions, and drive change—their mindset.
Our mindsets drive what we believe, think, do and how we perform in our work. Simply put, our brains are belief engines. They are always aggregating data and making decisions about what is pertinent for us and how successful we can be. So, when it comes to driving change with your consulting or coaching clients, spending time shifting the mindset will undoubtedly yield the largest rewards.
In my work with hundreds of entrepreneurs and leaders around the globe I’ve seen three distinct mindset challenges that need shifting to truly thrive in the context of our work. They are fixed mindset, shadow and upper limits.
Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset
You’ve likely heard quite a bit about growth versus fixed mindset—it’s taught in business schools all the way down to elementary school these days, and for good reason. The concepts were created by Stanford University researcher and psychologist, Carol Dweck. When we’re in a fixed mindset, we relate to our qualities as fixed traits that are unchangeable. This might come through as a belief like, “I’m just not a great manager, it’s who I am.” However, in the growth mindset, we believe that we can grow and learn and that skills are built over time. So, if we were using the growth mindset to reframe the above fixed belief, we’d shift to, “I am learning and developing my skills to be a great manager.” Having the ability to look at a challenging situation and identify where we need to grow to have a successful outcome is one of the biggest assets our clients can develop.
Shadow is a lesser talked about concept in the context of our work. “Shadow” was first introduced by Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Carl Gustav Jung. He studied and demonstrated that we all have dark sides of our personalities that we hide in order to stay safe and acceptable by our communities, families and society. They are hidden aspects that we’ve deemed unworthy and therefore repressed in our unconscious psyches. These are the pieces of ourselves that we believe are so unacceptable that we have to hide them. Only when we integrate our shadow can we be real, whole, and thrive authentically—in work and in life.
Every one of us has some form of shadow unless we’ve done the work (and keep doing the work) to integrate those denied aspects. It can manifest as harsh judgment of others (usually, we’re judging in others what we’ve deemed unacceptable in ourselves), bias, emotional volatility, perfectionism and lashing out. It can have a huge impact on our productivity, work relationships and ability to bring projects to completion. Jung says, “until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” In this case, unresolved shadow will direct our work in unfavorable ways, and we will feel helpless over it. Helping your clients see where they might have a shadow and inviting them into a conversation to integrate it not only helps them and their perspective, but all the team members they work with interpersonally, too.
Upper limits is a phrase coined by psychologist, Gay Hendricks. He says, “each of us has an inner thermostat setting that determines how much love, success and creativity we allow ourselves to enjoy.” These “thermostats” are often programmed in our formative years and set the limits for how much success, creativity, and financial abundance we can have. They are like these unconscious operating systems running in the background determining how much is possible for us in our work and in our lives. Here’s the rub; they keep us small and stuck. Just as those limits are learned, they can also be unlearned. Asking your clients about self-imposed limits and where they have learned them helps them see that they are just that—self-imposed. In any given moment we can choose to shift our limits. All it takes is a bit of consciousness and daily practice.
Hendricks taught that, “The goal in life is not to attain some imaginary ideal; it is to find and fully use our own gifts.” Unless we do the work to shift our mindsets by moving these fixed mindsets, shadow and upper limits out of the way, our work will suffer, our teams will flounder, and we’ll never really know what we’re capable of.
Once you have a clearer sense of these mindsets and how they might be at play with your clients or coachees, you can customize your offerings to ensure you are supporting them in moving past their limitations. One of the most well-reported examples of this shift is Microsoft. In April 2018, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft was interviewed by Forbes. Nadella credits growth mindset with tripling the value of the company—penning a book about the mindset shifts that enhanced their culture and profitability. He even made the focus of lifelong learning a priority highlighted on employee badges: from “know it all” to “learn it all.”
This one case study demonstrates that when we prioritize mindset coaching leaders— employees and the bottom-line flourish.