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Your Guide to Mindset As You Lead Change

There’s much talk about mindset today. If you only learn one thing today, make it this: cognitive mindset represents only 20 percent of the concept.

This number should not alarm you. As studies of neuroscience, social interaction and physiology progress, it’s fair to say the other 80 percent of your “thinking” doesn’t originate in your mind.

Nevertheless, when people hear the word “mindset,” they default to the brain. It’d be nice if it were true, but as you’ll see, much of how you “think” about anything takes place elsewhere.

If it’s not your brain doing the thinking, that should tell you: improving mindset to lead change isn’t going to come from studying data or analysing metrics. This is a challenge to reframe thoughts and attitudes which, half the time, are difficult to trace for their origin.

You’re hardly the first person to come across this daunting assignment. It’s the deep work of all great leaders, a sojourn to self-awareness.

This will take time, and require attention to detail. Due to the focus it takes, we created an online education platform that guides you through the process.


Why Is Mindset So Resistant to Change?

It would be simplistic to say, “Some people are just stubborn.” Temperaments vary, but to chalk someone’s resistance up to having “a closed mind” isn’t enough.

A better way to define the concept is holistic: mindset is comprised of the following:

  • Cognitive (logic)
  • Neurochemical (physiological)
  • Social (connected to others)
  • Linguistic (language-based)
  • Somatic (physical)

In other words, to change your mindset, you must adapt to new paradigms, including internal reactions to things you might not consider:

  • Your surroundings and environment
  • Your interactions with other people
  • Pleasure and pain messengers in your body
  • Subtle or major shifts in language you use, or inability to put words to a sensation

Internal sensations brought on by neurochemicals will influence leading change. Have you ever had a dopamine rush from giving a stern order? Have you ever felt anxiety and stress mount from receiving one? Congratulations, your neurochemical mindset is alive and well.

You must weigh how heavily others influence your thoughts. With one person on your team, you feel free to simply state a direct command, with full assurance they’ll comply. With another more self-assured person, you sense you must ask for the same thing. Neither of these are right or wrong … they simply reflect the reality of your linguistic mindset.

Language, or lack of it, governs your responses. If you don’t speak the “dialect” of the challenge you encounter, your mindset automatically withdraws or retreats.

Perhaps this helps you see why you can’t ignore working deep beneath your own surface. But to put a human face on the idea, consider my journey away from alcoholism.

Like many abusers, I found it remarkable how environment affected my tendency to drink. The cultural expectation to drink is powerful. People think you’re weird if you don’t, which further obstructs your ability to acknowledge you have a problem. After all, if everyone you know does it, how is it you have a problem?

As the mind adapts to an alcoholic lifestyle, you naturally form neuropaths that direct you into those compromised situations more frequently. These could be called your “habits.” But as you can see, they have nothing to do with logic.

Similarly, alcoholics gravitate toward other people who tolerate or abuse alcohol themselves. Let’s just say, these people don’t spend a lot of time in monasteries or personal development programs.

In severe cases, physiology reacts negatively when someone is deprived of alcohol. Again: all of these are parts of an alcoholic mindset. But none of them have anything to do with logic.

These things became true for me, the further I descended. It was hardly a “yes or no” question in my brain. Everything in me nudged, cajoled and pressured me to seek out people, places, content and conversations that led to abusing alcohol.

The bottom line: you can’t ignore a multi-faceted approach to growth mindset. You shortcut the process, when you simplify it to flicking an on-off switch in the brain.


How to DIVE Into Mindset

It’s tempting here to set up “cookie cutter” framework that suits everyone. That would be irresponsible and ignorant of the facts.

You and I could have similar reactions to some stimuli, but different responses to others. There is, however, a strategic way to position yourself to grow and improve your mindset. We’ve found these helpful across the board.


  • Define Change

Change may be inevitable, but not all change is necessary. Many changes take place because leaders in one organisation observe counterparts doing them in another, without analysing their strategy.

In my case, I absolutely had to stop drinking. The problem was I simply lacked emotional maturity to cope with much of adult life. The early calamity of divorce set in motion a series of events that became progressively difficult to handle.

Others with alcohol problems also need to stop drinking … but the tactical expression might take a different shape. Some people abuse alcohol because they’re addicted to pleasure, as a means of smothering their internal unhappiness. Often, these people abuse it in highly social contexts, like parties.


  • Investigate Approaches

Some leaders we work with in the Unitive online education platform wrestle more with how change takes place, than change itself.

The larger the organisation, the harder it is to make draconian changes with the stroke of a pen. Even when change is welcome and desirable, wise leaders who consistently work on mindset seem to “pull back” and resist the demand.

In truth, they’re not pulling back. But it certainly seems that way. They can often be taken for digging in their heels or being stubborn. Sometimes, this can become fear-driven, but usually it’s a good thing. We encourage clients to press into their fears and demand to know their own true motives, before taking action.

One tool I learned to investigate for my addiction was language. I never had “an answer” for the shame I felt in my behaviour. Accusations of dishonesty felt correct and reasonable. No one, least of all me, had ever told me otherwise.

It wasn’t until I began to define change and examine how I spoke to myself – the messages I allowed to take root in my soul – that I found I could reject and silence them. It took openness to learning a new “dialect” I could command in response to temptation.


  • Validate and Iterate

This business principle holds true for leading change – if you find something that get the results you’re looking for, keep doing it. Automate it and teach it to others.

The truth about oneself is the addict’s most powerful tool, and an interesting thing happened when I began to share my struggles. Contrary to expectations, people were drawn toward my story. They weren’t offended or disgusted by what I told them.

As I got used to taking responsibility for what I had done, others began to look to me as a leader. It set me up to lead and run businesses at an entirely different level than before.

Part of the reason was the mindset I projected. People may have thought many things about me through the process, but their words and actions told me they felt safe, accepted, welcomed and valued.

Surprisingly, people began to share their struggles too. That validated the process, and now it began to “iterate” – in others – as they followed my example.


  • Embody and Reinforce

As time passed, this process turned into a force of its own. I wasn’t simply defining, investigating, validating or iterating. The authentic habits I’d chosen built a “core” that became the brand itself.

Much like on Unitive’s online education platform, it was as if I’d been “weaponised” into a walking, talking avatar of leading change through disruption.

By journeying inward, to renovate the mess I’d made, I began to “emit” a new essence. People caught it and ran with it. Only this time, the results yielded the sustainability and authenticity I wanted, as opposed to when I “emitted” the shame, fear and unhappiness of my alcoholism.

Unlike the “enforcement” tactics of some leaders, I also found I didn’t need to carry a baseball bat to reinforce culture. There was no need to scream, so long as the trust and bonds I’d created could withstand honest expressions of how I felt.

I was able to leverage stories of failure and folly, to discourage certain behaviours in the teams I led. Leading change through disruption never required making people feel the heat, to get them to see the light.

You might describe this approach as “becoming the kind of leader people want to follow.” For better or worse, when business drives so much of our lives through jobs, partnerships and supplying each other’s wants and needs … it’s an approach that’s way overdue.