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Understanding the leadership mindset

Mindsets drive what leaders do and why. They determine what information they take and use to make sense of and navigate the situations they face. Two leaders may process and respond to it differently, based on their mindsets. One leader might see the situation as a threat that hinders his authority whilst another might see it as an opportunity to learn and develop.

A leadership mindset is influential because it determines the leader’s emotional reactions, the decisions they make and actions they take. It directly impacts the quality of their relationships and overall leadership style. It also sets the tone for the organisation and determines the employee’s work experience.

Research shows that leaders with a growth mindset are more mentally primed to approach and take on challenges, take advantage of feedback, adopt the most effective problem-solving strategies, provide developmental feedback to subordinates, and be effortful and persistent in seeking to accomplish goals. Additionally, it highlights that managers see more leadership potential in their employees when their companies adopt a growth mindset – the belief that talent should be developed in everyone, instead of seeing it as a fixed gift that some have and others don’t.

The Microsoft example

Understanding the different types of mindsets is important to tailor leadership development programmes. A good example of an organisation that leveraged the power of mindsets is Microsoft. With the arrival of Satya Nadella in 2014, who made it his mission to revamp the leadership and culture at Microsoft, with focus on growth mindsets, the company’s market capitalisation and stock price has more than tripled.

Microsoft’s emphasis is on learning and creativity, which is reflected in several leadership development programmes. The annual hackathon offers employees the opportunity to step outside their day jobs and develop leadership skills like collaborating across disciplines and advocating for ideas. The company has also redefined their traditional approach to talent management by identifying and nurturing high potential talent, which is supplemented with their ‘Talent Talks’ programme. Each year the CEO and the senior leadership team meat to review employee performance, discuss moving people up and across teams and brainstorm methods of augmenting skills. Whilst these discussions require almost a full week of the senior leadership team’s time, they provide a much broader view of future talent and help to identify and foster future leaders. By giving more people the opportunity to become a leader, these programmes are not only unleashing greater potential across the company, but they are also instrumental in attracting new talent.

This is just one example that shows that if organisations want their leadership talent to develop, they should also focus on their mindset as this will have a significant impact on their leadership style. In today’s complex business environment the need to equip leaders at all levels with leadership skills has never been more important. At Acumen we have over 18 years’ experience designing and delivering leadership development programmes that help organisations and individuals solve real life challenges and succeed. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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