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Measuring the Leadership Mindset – Part 2: Strategy

January 22, 2020
Jaap Hollander

The Big Four
In the first article in this series, we discussed four essential elements of the Leadership Mindset. We started from a definition by Bill Clinton. In the first article we covered vision and we constructed a vision benchmark defining the meta programs making up ‘envisioning’. In this second article, we will focus on strategy.

Leadership”, Clinton says in the famous 2014 Fortune article, “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. …. Leaders needs to be able to clearly articulate a vision of where they want to go and develop a realistic strategy to get there”.

MindsetLeaders, 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. And all these behaviours result from a certain mindset. Mindset includes how someone feels, 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.

With the psychological tool MindSonar we can measure how people think and what they find important. In other words: MindSonar measures mindsets. What does strategy look like in terms of meta programs and Graves drives, the human qualities MindSonar measures?

StrategyA first thing we can say about strategy, is that it is the link between vision and action. The vision gives direction: where we want to go in the future. The strategy describes the path, how we want to go there; what we are going to do to get there.

A strategy usually contains a number of steps. Strategy says: first we will do this, then we will do that and finally we will achieve such and such. This is procedural thinking. When someone thinks procedurally (as opposed to thinking in options), they are aware of a sequence of actions or outcomes. Although phases or steps in the sequence may overlap, basically each phase needs to be finished to make the next phase successful or even possible.

What is realism?Clinton mentioned “developing a realistic strategy”. Of course, procedural thinking can just as easily lead to unrealistic strategies. Pipe-dreams can have strategies too. Being procedural is no guarantee for realism. Examples of failed – and often very specifically strategized – ventures abound. Take the TouchPad for instance, HP’s iPad challenger. HP gave up the TouchPad after just a month and a half on the market. It was not a bad product. It did what is was supposed to do, but it didn’t do anything better than the iPad. One retailer ended up with 250.000 unsold TouchPads. Or take the Galaxy Note 7, one of Samsung’s flagship phones. It would occasionally catch fire and/or explode.… The Note 7 was banned from airplanes, and to this day it still is. Samsung had to recall the entire line.

A good example of a successful, realistic strategy is offered by Toyota. When Toyota started selling Japanese cars in the US, the government responded with protectionist taxes on all imports of cars. This made Japanese cars as expensive as US made cars. Within a few years, Toyota established production plants in the US, avoiding the new import taxes. Counter to expectations, Toyota continued to output cars significantly cheaper than US companies could. Their production processes were so efficient and lean, that they were able to beat USA car makers at their own game. Toyota spent years studying the production lines of American car makers such as Ford. They tried to copy what the Americans did well. Then they blended these processes with strengths of their own, and came up with something even better. Knowing their own weaknesses was their key to success. Toyota’s number one corporate value is humility. Their main advantage, price, was taken away through the taxes, but the Toyota leadership successfully met this outer obstacle with inner resources like humility and tenacity.

What makes a strategy realistic? 

  1. Practical limitations are addressedHP didn’t seem to realise that the reception of their TouchPad would be limited by its minimal advantages over the iPad. Toyota did understand that their price advantage would be severely limited by tax-raised prices.
  2. Possible dangers are consideredHP didn’t seem to have considered the danger of the TouchPads being sent back by the retailers if they didn’t sell right away. Toyota did understand that their whole USA venture would fail if they could not deliver equal or better quality for a lower price.
  3. Actions to execute the steps in the strategy are specifiedAll HP could do when the Touchpad didn’t sell right away, was to discontinue it and take their loss. This happened in only 6 weeks. Toyota responded to the protectionist taxes with a long term plan to establish US factories and refining their production processes over decades.

Strategy in MindSonar terms What is strategy in terms of the meta programs that MindSonar can measure?

When we are talking about considering limitations, we are talking about the thinking style element of mismatching: thinking about what is wrong with an idea.

When it comes to considering dangers, we are talking about the meta program away from: focusing on what you don’t want to happen.Practical actions to execute steps are expressions of the meta programs specific. There is also a pitfall to specificity though: if the leader it becomes involved in the details too much, they may get lost in micromanaging and lose sight of the bigger vision. Here, the specific style of thinking needs to be balanced by enough general thinking.

There are, of course, different levels of specificity. In strategic planning the pathway towards the ‘common cause’ is laid out. Steps are distinguished. Alternative scenarios are defined. All this is more specific than the single direction that the vision describes. But it is not as specific as micromanagement. From a leadership perspective, strategic planning is still fairly general, although not as general as a vision. Often three levels of specificity are distinguished in strategic planning:

ValuesValues describe how you do what you do. They are intimately linked to the vision. They define the organisation’s culture. The strategic aspect of values is that they define in broad terms how you want to go about realising the mission. Toyota’s official values for instance,  are: imagination, experimentation, humility, respect and innovation.

ObjectivesAn objective is a goal that will help actualise a value. Objectives are specific and preferably contain a deadline. Rule of thumb: for an objective the deadline is one year or more. An example of an objective is Toyota’s goal to establish factories in the USA.

ProjectsAn objective usually contains several projects. A project is a specific activity that will achieve the objective. Leaders tend to focus on objectives more than on projects. In the Toyota example this would be defining the right location for the factory, contacting a builder, setting up the production line, and so on.

Here too, there are balances. On the one hand the leader needs to be able to consider specifics when planning, in order to keep things realistic. On the other hand, they need to stay focused on the larger vision. A great example of a leader alternating between general and specific thinking is Barack Obama. In his famous speeches he will often talk about some very specific details, like mentioning a 104 year old black lady and all the specific black liberation events she has witnessed in her lifetime. Within minutes in the same speech, he will refer to a very general vision, like the US as a place for all citizens to realise their potential.

In MindSonar, a two-sided meta program is procedure versus options. On the one hand the leader needs to think in a procedural way when they are developing the strategy. on the other hand they want to keep perceiving new options. This is necessary to ‘respond to unforeseen opportunities when they arise’ (Clinton). Strategy Benchmark

So in terms of what we can measure with MindSonar, what are we looking for in the strategic planning part of the leadership mindset?

  1. General thinking (Planning the pathway forwards in broad terms)
  2. Some specific thinking (Keeping the strategy realistic)
  3. A lot off towards thinking (Planning the pathway towards realising the mission)
  4. Some mismatching thinking (To asses limitations)
  5. Some away from thinking (To identify dangers)

So far, we had only taken the vision into account (in the first article) and now we are adding the strategy. In the next two articles we will refine our benchmark by adding the meta programs for the other two elements of the big four: engagement and resilience.

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

  1. General thinking > 7 – 10 points
  2. Some specific thinking > At least 2 points
  3. A lot off towards thinking > 7 – 10 points
  4. Some mismatching thinking > At least 2 points
  5. Some away from thinking > At least 2 points

Leadership audit part 2: StrategyWith this benchmark, focussing on strategy only and disregarding the other three elements for now, we can do another leadership audit. We can take any MindSonar profile for the context of ‘Leading X’ and compare it with our strategy benchmark. We can look at the similarities and differences to help us decide to what extent someone shows the strategy aspect of the leadership mindset.

TheMindSonar profile below is the same as the one in article 1: Jonas’ thinking style for the context of ‘Being VeganMarket Director’. This time we will look at his profile from the strategy perspective.

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

  • General thinking > 7 – 10 points = Match (almost)
  • Some specific thinking > At least 2 points = Match
  • A lot off towards thinking > 7 – 10 points = Match
  • Some mismatching thinking > At least 2 points = Match

From this audit we may conclude that Jonas has all the necessary thinking style elements for strategic thinking. As we can see from these two audits, Jonas’s challenges as a leader obviously lie more in the area of vision than the area of strategy. So if we were coaching or mentoring Jonathan, we would focus on vision and we would assume that he will do okay with strategy.

Combined Leadership Mindset BenchmarkWhen we combine the vision benchmark with the strategy benchmark, we arrive at this combination:


  • Future thinking > 7 – 10 points
  • Towards thinking > 7 – 10 points
  • Matching thinking > 7 -10 points
  • Visual thinking > 6 -10 points
  • Some kinesthetic thinking > At least 2 points
  • Internal reference thinking > 7 -10 points
  • Internal locus of control thinking > 7 – 10 points


  • General thinking > 7 – 10 points
  • Some specific thinking > At least 2 points
  • Towards thinking > 7 – 10 points
  • Some mismatching thinking > At least 2 points

This concludes the second article on the Leadership Mindset. Next stop: engagement.

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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