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Measuring the Leadership Mindset – Part 1: Vision

January 22, 2020
Jaap Hollander

Clinton on leadership
What is leadership? One of the most concise and yet comprehensive descriptions was given by former US president Bill Clinton, in a Fortune magazine interview in 2014.

“Leadership”, Clinton said, “means bringing people together in pursuit of a common cause, developing a plan to achieve it and staying with it until the goal is achieved.

Leadership also requires the ability to respond to unforeseen problems and opportunities when they arise.

Leaders need to be able to clearly articulate a vision of where they want to go, develop a realistic strategy to get there. They need to attract talented, committed people with a wide variety of knowledge, perspectives and skills. In the modern world, I believe lasting positive results are more likely to occur when leaders practice inclusion and cooperation rather than authoritarian unilateralism.”

Leaders, like everybody else, achieve goals through their actions; what they do and what they say, how do you it and and how they say it. All these behaviours result from a certain way of thinking. Behind all those actions is a certain mindset. Somebody's mindset includes how they feel, what mood they are in, their attitudes and beliefs and their thinking processes. A different mindset will results in different actions and different actions will result in different outcomes.

The Inner Game
Mindset is what sports coach W. Timothy Gallwey calls the Inner Game. Gallwey has pointed out that a sports person actually plays two games, or as he calls it: acts in two arenas of engagement. There is an inner arena and there is an outer arena. Gallwey started out developing its principle for the game of tennis and later expanded the application of his theory to cover professional excellence in all kinds of fields.

A tennis player has external goals like how to hold their racket, how to keep their breathing steady, how to focus on the ball, and so on. “The inner game”, Gallwey says, “takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses of focus and limiting concepts and assumptions. The inner game is played to overcome the self-imposed obstacles that prevent the individual or a team from accessing their full potential.” The interaction between the inner game and the outer game is essential for both tennis players and leaders.

Any team and any leader will sooner or later run into obstacles. Markets changes, technologies appear, environments collapse. Say you are leading a photo press agency and ‘suddenly’ anyone with a smartphone can send their pictures to the paper. Or you direct a cab company and Uber appears.

When a leader combines an outer obstacle with a an inner obstacle of their own, problems tends to spiral out of hand. Take Volkswagen for example. They ran into a huge outer obstacle with their Audi A3, and VW models like Beetle and Passat. The engines in these cars (11 million world wide) emitted pollutants up to 40 times above what is allowed. Volkswagen leadership  met this outer obstacle with inner obstacles like fear and a desire to hide. Rather than ‘practicing inclusion and cooperation’ as Bill Clinton would probably have advised them, they decided to illegally change the testing software to obtain ‘better results’. The rest is history: great damage to the Volkswagen brand and a slow, painful recovery. An outer obstacle was met with an inner obstacle.

So one essential quality of effective leaders is their ability to meet external obstacles with internal resources. This can turn a difficult challenge into an achievable goal. After the dust had settled a bit, Volkswagen leadership finally met the emission challenge with awareness, courage and vision. They are now envisioning Volkswagen as an electric car company and they have made a huge financial effort towards that goal. One wishes for Volkswagen that their leadership had met this outer obstacle white that inner resource 10 years earlier.

The leadership mindset as a resource
In this series of articles we will look at a set of inner resources for leaders: the Leadership Mindset. With the psychological tool MindSonar we can measure how people think and what they find important. In other words: MindSonar measures mindsets. What does the leadership mindset look like in terms of meta programs and Graves drives, the two types of human qualities MindSonar measures?

Leadership versus management
Leadership is closely related to motivating people. It is something entirely different from management. Management is often defined as ‘getting things done through others’. Leadership on the other hand, may be defined as ‘getting people to want to do things’. Management is usually associated with the improving productivity,  establishing order and stability and making things run efficiently. Leadership is what sets the direction and keeps a group moving forward, even when there is a lot of uncertainty, upheaval and resistance.

The First Four Elements
Taking Clinton's definition as a starting point, we can distinguish four main elements in leadership:

  1. Vision
    Clearly articulating and uplifting view of the future.

  2. Planning
    Developing a realistic strategy.

  3. Engagement
    Attracting talented and committed people.

  4. Resilience
    Responding effectively to unforeseen problems.

We can distill three more aspects from the Clinton definition’. But we will set these aside for now:

  1. Tenacity
    Staying with it until the goal is achieved.

  2. Flexibility
    Being able to deal with and appreciate a wide variety of perspectives.

  3. Creativity
    Making use of unforeseen opportunities.

These three qualities are valuable qualities as well, but partly they follow more or less automatically from the first four and partly they do not seem as important as the first 4.

Passion, vision and mission
Where does a vision come from? Related concepts are: passion, mission and personal history.

Someone’s passion is what they really enjoy doing. Their passion is what they love so much, they may forget to eat or even go to the bathroom when they are doing it.

Their vision is an image of an ideal world in terms of what they are producing with their organisation. In the early 80’s, Microsoft’s Bill Gates’ vision was ‘A computer on every desk and in every home’. At the time this was an impossible ideal. Today it is almost a given.

Someone’s mission is what they - themselves or their company or their group - want to contribute to bringing that vision, that ideal, closer to reality. Their mission is the role they want to play in making the vision come true.

And then there is someone’s personal history. Experiences that have formed them. From their personal history they bring skills, attitudes and interests that are part of their leadership style. The director of our local soup factory, for instance, once told me: “I was lucky in that I liked soccer. My predecessor liked golf, so he couldn’t talk about his hobby with the workers. But I could always connect with them talking about the latest soccer matches, especially the ones of the local club”.

A great example of ‘envisioning’ is offered by the famous British entrepreneur Richard Branson. When thinking about a new company, Branson asks himself one simple question: “How will this product make people’s lives better?” Then, in his mind’s eye, he takes a blank canvas and he starts painting a picture of the new company and what it does. He keeps changing the picture until he gets a good feeling looking at it.

Envisioning in MindSonar terms
How do these leadership qualities translate to meta programs (thinking process elements) and Graves drives (values)? We will cover the first one (vision) in this article and the next three in three articles to follow.

Future’ and ‘Towards’ thinking
In terms of meta programs (thinking styles) crucial elements in vision are future and towards thinking. To be able to communicate a vision, the leader needs to not only look to the future but also decide what they want to move towards in that future, rather than what they want to move away from. They need to set a direction based on where they do want to go.

A good example of the leadership effects of towards versus away from thinking, is the Brexit drama in the UK. The ‘brexiteers’ were, broadly speaking, glorifying the restoration of the British Empire and all the great things that would that result from it: freedom, pride, prosperity and safety. Mostly a string toward orientation. The ‘remainers’, those who wanted to stay in the European Union, were talking about problems that might arise from the Brexit, things that they wanted move to away from: losing European markets, being in violation of international law and being isolated. Part of the reason why the brexiteers won, is the fact that their arguments were much more towards and carried a much more positive sentiment with them. Like I said, this is putting it very broadly. There were plenty of exceptions on both sides. But the trend was clear, and it is recognisable in all populist movements.

Matching’ thinking
And of course a leader needs a positive, enthusiastic feeling that they can communicate when talking about the direction. That feeling can only come from focusing on what is good, safe and just (meta program matching), not from a focus what is bad, dangerous and unjust (meta program mismatching).

‘Kinesthetic’ thinking
In terms of sensory modalities the uplifting vision is a mix of a lot visual (images) but also a kinesthetic (feelings) element.

‘Internal reference’ thinking
An obvious element of the leadership Mindset that we haven’t discussed yet, is believing in your vision. It almost goes without saying, that a leader needs to believe in their own vision. If a leader would let go of their vision as soon as other people don't see the value or the feasibility of it, they would not be able to lead for long. So here they would need internal reference as a thinking style. Internal reference means: I believe in my own criteria; I believe I am right. The opposite is external reference: I believe in your criteria; you tell me what’s right.

‘Internal locus of control’ thinking
Another obvious element is internal locus of control, meaning: I believe that I can make things happen, I believe that I have a significant influence on my circumstances. I see myself more as a cause than an effect. The opposite, external locus of control, means: I don’t think I have much influence. I am strongly influenced by my circumstances. I see myself more as an effect than a cause. Of course, a leader needs a strong internal locus of control. If they don’t believe their actions will make a difference, it’s not logical to lead anywhere. The most you can say about an ideal world from an external locus of control is: it would be great if it would happen, but it’s out of our hands, we’ll have to wait and hope for the best.

Vision Benchmark
So, in terms of what we can measure with MindSonar in terms of vision, we are looking for:

  1. Future thinking
  2. Towards thinking
  3. Matching thinking
  4. A lot of visual thinking
  5. Some kinesthetic thinking
  6. Internal reference thinking
  7. Internal locus of control thinking

These seven thinking style elements are the first seven elements of a benchmark profile for the Leadership Mindset. We can compare any MindSonar profile with this benchmark and look at similarities and differences between that particular profile and this benchmark.

So far, we have taken only vision into account. In the next three articles we will refine our benchmark by adding the meta programs for the other three elements of our 'big four': strategy, engagement and resilience.

To add ranges to our vision benchmark, let’s say:

  1. Future thinking > 7 - 10 points
  2. Towards thinking > 7 - 10 points
  3. Matching thinking > 7 -10 points
  4. A lot of visual thinking > 6 -10 points
  5. Some kinesthetic thinking > At least 2 points
  6. Internal reference thinking > 7 -10 points
  7. Internal locus of control thinking > 7 - 10 points

Leadership Audit: Vision
With this benchmark, focussing on vision only and disregarding the other three elements for now, we can do a first leadership audit. We can take any MindSonar profile for the context of ‘Leading X’ and then we can compare it with our vision benchmark. We can look at the similarities and differences to help us decide to what extent someone has the vision aspect of the leadership mindset.

TheMindSonar profile below describes Jonas’ thinking style for the context of ‘Being VeganMarket Director’. Jonas is founder and director of company called ‘VeganMarket’ (not the real name). They buy local produce and other vegan products and sell them through a website. Their claim to fame is a fleet of cargo bikes with their logo on the carrier baskets. Jonas is wondering: ‘Am I cut out to be a leader?’ He started the company more or less as a hobby. Now they have 60 employees. Jonas sometimes feels out of his depth. He reports a whole series of obstacles he experiences leading VeganMarket.

When we check Jonas’ profile against our vision benchmark, we see the following matches and mismatches:

  1. Future thinking > 7 - 10 = Mismatch
  2. Towards thinking > 7 - 10 = Match
  3. Matching thinking > 7 -1 0 = Match
  4. A lot of visual thinking > 6 - 10 = Mismatch
  5. Some kinesthetic thinking > At least 2 = Mismatch
  6. Internal reference thinking > 7 - 10 = Mismatch
  7. Internal locus of control thinking > 7 - 10 = Match (almost)

So in order to be a more visionary leader, Jonas could

  • Develop a stronger focus on the future and what he wants the future of VeganMarket to be.
  • Create more internal images and movies about the ideal world he wants to bring closer through VeganMarket.
  • Develop a stronger feeling of enthusiasm about the vision.
  • Strengthen the idea that he is right about the future and the possibilities of VeganMarket.

How he could develop all that is a matter of motivation and coaching.

This concludes the first article on the Leadership Mindset. Next stop: strategy.

About the author 

Jaap Hollander

Psychologist, living in the Netherlands. Founded MindSonar in 1995. Working as a trainer, coach and therapist as well as being director of the IEP, the Institute for Eclectic Psychology. Has written 10 books on NLP and Provocative Coaching. Most recent book: "Provocative Coaching" (English), fall 2012 (Crown House) available from Amazon.

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