For 25 years I have been working with organizational leaders to develop within themselves the capacity and propensity to lead their people effectively. My clients have made transformative changes in their mindsets resulting in dramatic increases in the effectiveness of the people that comprise their organizations.
This transformation in mindset evidenced by improvements in quality, service and financial sustainability. For most of those 24 years, it has been a struggle to explain how this process works. Recent advancements in the sciences shed light on the inner workings of process.
“We are living in the middle of a revolution in consciousness. Over the past few years, genetics, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, anthropologists, and others have made great strides in understanding the building blocks of human flourishing. And a core finding of their work is that we are not primarily the products of our conscious thinking. We are primarily the products of thinking that happens below the level of consciousness. The unconscious parts of the mind are not primitive vestiges that need to be conquered in order to make wise decisions. They are not dark caverns of repressed sexual urges. Instead, the unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind – where most of the decisions and many of the most impressive acts of thinking take place. These submerged processes are the seedbeds of accomplishment.” (1)
The work of leadership development involves helping one to shape their own unconscious thoughts and submerged process, thereby affecting these “seedbeds of accomplishment”. Part of the revolution in the sciences is the recent understanding that the brain is plastic. As we learn, we develop new neural pathways in the brain. So, we can consciously adopt new perspectives and ways of thinking that, with practice and repetition, become unconscious competencies.
When a team of leaders is engaged in this growth process together, as their thoughts change, they change the culture of their organizations. Culture is the unconsciously agreed upon mores and norms that define the rules of engagement in any group of people. So, by impacting the unconscious thought processes of a leadership team, and helping them develop the capacity and propensity to do the same for others, we intentionally shape both the mindset of individuals and the culture shared between members of the group.
It’s about who and how people are being, not what they do. Two different people can give a speech on the same topic. They are doing the same thing. One can be optimistic, open, and accepting and produce a particular affect in their audience. Another can be pessimistic, closed and judgmental and produce an entirely different affect in the audience. A practical example of this: The techniques of brainstorming are widely understood and utilized in organizations. However, if the members of the group are committed to the purpose, open, future focused and willing to take risks the session can be very productive. If however the members are committed to protecting themselves, to the status quo, and being risk averse, the process will produce little other than frustration.
The work of leadership is transformative in nature. Transformation is creating a change in the basic nature or character of a thing. In this case, helping people to consciously create a transformation in their mindset that allows them to affect their thought process, those of others, and the culture of the group. We work with people to help them develop three separate and distinct features of their mindset:
Inspiration: The conscious cultivation of a commitment to a purpose that they see as meaningful. “A man on a mission.” Every great leader in history has stood up for something that they believed in.
Integrity: The integration of word and action. Simply put, giving your word and keeping your word. Individuals and organizations that strive to operate with high integrity use accountability to ensure execution, to support success.
Insight: Helping people attain insight into their unconscious motivations is a key in creating growth for each individual and for the organization. Growth occurs when we generate actions that are focused on the higher purpose we are in the service of rather than merely pursuing what is comfortable and habitual for us.
Being able to conceptualize these features of a leadership is a critical step in growing our capacity to be a leader.
(1) “The Social Animal” by David Brooks, Copyright 2011 by David Brooks