A coaching client of mine had to deal with some staff challenges recently. He is the senior leader for a team in a matrix structure across two locations and a member of the team was not getting on with someone outside the team. The other senior leader in the matrix structure got involved to try and help the situation and my client’s team member got upset – and I mean to atomic scale!

Interestingly, the team member was more upset by the involvement of the other leader than the original disagreement. They asked to be taken off a project they were working on with the other manager while the situation cooled down. Not wanting to prolong the conflict and tension, my client agreed.

I asked why he had taken that decision and he talked about wanting things to settle down and move forward and it being only temporary measure. I asked how he would feel if the situation were reversed and his leadership colleague had okayed the removal of a team member from his project based on this situation? After an awkward silence, my friend said that he would feel angry, let down and unsupported and that he shouldn’t have taken that decision before talking with his colleague.

My client doesn’t like conflict and will do all that he can to minimise it. It’s a pattern that we’ve talked about before and one that he knows he needs to actively manage in his senior leadership role. As we drew our discussion to a close, he acknowledged that this was default behaviour on his part, that it had not been his leadership best and that it had not helped his team member be their best either.  I asked him to consider how he could have stretched himself beyond his default positions in ways that would have served his leadership, his relationship with his colleague and his team member’s personal and professional development.

As leaders, we sometimes must ask more of ourselves to bring out the best in others. Understanding what your default patterns and positions are can help you recognise situations when you need to be aware to stretch yourself further and move out of your comfort zone.

“Sometimes we must stretch into the best version of ourselves
in order to help others stretch into theirs.”

Do you know your default patterns and positions?
Often our default patterns and positions are driven by our mindsets. A mindset is a lens or frame of mind through which you view the world. These lenses help you make sense of the world, by simplifying and organising the large amount of information you need to process in any given moment.

Mindsets cover many areas of your life – including your work and relationships. They aren’t just a reflection of reality, they serve to interact with your reality and can shape it in self-fulfilling ways.

Mindsets tip off a cascade of psychological and physiological effects on attention, arousal, motivation and effect. For example, in one study conducted with hotel housemaids who were on their feet all day cleaning, it was found that when they were encouraged to change their mindset from seeing this activity as “just work” to seeing it as “good exercise”, after four weeks they had lost weight, their blood pressure went down and their body image and job satisfaction went up.

There is growing evidence that mindset affects outcomes in a variety of life domains, including intelligence (Dweck, 2008) ageing (Levy & Myers, 2004) and response to stress (Crum, Salovey, & Achor, 2013), and that changes in our subjective mindsets can alter our objective reality through behavioural, psychological and physiological mechanisms.

From a neuroscience perspective, mindsets are great energy saving tactic for the brain. From the moment we are born we observe patterns in our experiences which inform our understanding of how the world works. The more frequently we experience a particular pattern, the stronger this understanding becomes. In our brains, these patterns of understanding are laid down as complex neural networks. For example, if I say the words ‘Brussel sprouts’ your brain aggregates all of your experiences of the small green vegetable which creates your mindset towards them – anything from ‘Yuck!’ to ‘Yum!’ depending on your experiences. You don’t have to reassess your mindset towards brussel sprouts because your brain already has one it can take ‘off the shelf’.  In this way mindsets reduce the amount of information that we need to process to make a judgement about a situation and how we will respond – they give us a ‘starting point’ from which to assess our environment.

And this is the danger.

Mindsets can act like blinkers on a horse that narrow our vision and perspective if we are not aware of them.  They can lead to automated ‘default’ thinking and responses that may not be relevant, appropriate or beneficial to creating possibility or making progress with our leadership.

“So how can we challenge our mindsets
to make sure they are not creating default patterns and
positions that do not serve us well?”

Tune In
Mindsets come to life through the voice in our head – this like an ‘internal radio’ that is constantly tuned to ‘Me FM’. Tuning into your internal radio can help identify whether your mindset is useful and accurate.
Think of a situation that did not go as you wanted, expected or hoped – when you were triggered in some way or felt that you let yourself down (as my coaching client did). What was playing on ‘Me FM’ at that time? How were you making sense of the situation – what was your mindset?

Dial Up and Dial Down
How did your mindset influence your thoughts, feelings and behaviours in that situation? For example, you may have a particular mindset about a member of your team based on past experiences. In the specific situation you are recalling, did you take in all the information available or did it lead you to default patterns and positions based on previous experience? Do you need to change the dial on your internal radio to shift your mindset based on current experiences rather than an aggregate of past ones?

Choose your Playlist
As you become aware of alternative mindsets notice how the way you are feeling and what you feel able to do changes. Which mindset serves you best in your situation for you to achieve the outcomes that you want? Which mindset boosts your resilience, enables you to engage with the situation, create possibility and make meaningful progress. Choose the playlist on your internal radio by investing your attention and energy in this mindset and see what outcomes you achieve.

Paige can help you develop positive energy and mindset.  Check out her Leading Well  Workshop.

Copyright 2019: Dr Paige Williams

Paige Williams, PhD

Paige Williams, PhD

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach

Paige helps leaders elevate their impact to lead teams who deliver results and create a culture that feeds high performance.

Feeling well. Doing well. Leading well.