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Measuring the Leadership MindSet – Part 3: Engagement

April 23, 2020
Jaap Hollander

The Big Four
In the first two articles in this series, we described the four essential elements of the Leadership Mindset. We started from a definition by Bill Clinton. In the first article we covered the element of vision in the second one we discussed strategy. For a Leadership Audit, we constructed a vision benchmark and a strategy benchmark. In this third article, we will focus on engagement.

“Leadership”, former US president Clinton says, “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 need to … attract talented, committed people with a wide variety of knowledge, perspectives and skills. (Fortune magazine, 2014. Quoted by Dilts in ‘Conscious Leadership and Resilience’).

MindsetIn the first articles we took the position that leaders achieve goals through their actions; what they do and what they say, how do you it and and how they say it. And that all these behaviours result from a 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 the leadership mindset look like in terms of meta programs and Graves drives, the human qualities MindSonar measures?

Talented and committed peopleIn order to attract anyone, be they talented or not, a leader needs to actively communicate their vision. Just thinking about it and looking at your vision from many different perspectives, won’t cut it.

So an effective leader is be able to create a clear, positive, ‘uplifting’ vision for the future. We described this is the first article in this series, which is all about vision.

When it comes to attracting people, a leader minimally needs to be active in ‘promoting’ their vision. And they need to infuse that promotion of their vision with enthusiasm and confidence.Talented people will often have many possible causes they can devote their energies to and many different job opportunities. And people are not as stable in their work choices as they were 20 years ago. Millennials, for instance, have a reputation for moving from job to job, being constantly on the lookout for the next best thing. Polish researcher Monika Kwiecińska notes that generation Z significantly less often chooses the ‘matching’ meta program. In other words: they are harder to please. The more talented somebody is, the more compelling and inspiring the leader’s mission and their mission presentation need to be to attract and retain them.

What people wantAn aspect that Clinton doesn’t mention, but that seems eminently relevant here, is retention. Not only does the leader need to attract talented people, they need to keep these talented people engaged and motivated. Basically, you retain people by offering tem what they want. And people essentially want four things in a job – and in life in general -.

  • RecognitionTo be seen, heard and appreciated.
  • PassionTo do work that fits their passion and their personal mission.
  • CommunityTo be part of a group or a team.
  • RewardsTo be rewarded for their efforts as the culture prescribes.

RecognitionTo keep people engaged, the leader – and their organisation – needs to offer these four benefits. They can only do that when they connect directly with key people and spend time and effort to understand them. For key people, this connection will be immediate and personal. But for people who have little or no direct contact with the leader, it is still important that the leader keep promoting their vision. This may be done in speeches and communiques. But more importantly, the leader needs to be a living example of the vision and values they promote. In that sense the leader constantly communicates with the people in their organisation. And of course the lader has an important role in stimulating managers to deliver the four main benefits.

The teamApart from wanting to belong to a bigger whole, the teams people work in, play a centre role in the feeling of community. What needs to happen in a team to foster belonging? In 2012 Google ran ‘Project Aristotle’. It ran for several years and it included interviews with hundreds of employees. “We looked at 180 teams from all over the company. We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.’’ says Abeer Dubey, a manager in Google’s People Analytics division. In the best teams, members show sensitivity, and most importantly, listen to one another. Google now describes psychological safety as the most important factor in building a successful team. The best teams make sure that all members contribute to the conversation equally, and respect one another’s emotions. So thee are qualities a leader needs to promote and guard, both in their own teams and in teams led by their managers.

MindSonar distinctionsSo, give all this,  what can we say about engagement in terms of what MindSonar measures? First of all, all the meta programs we described for vision are just as relevant for the attracting and retaining of talented people. An important ingredient to add to this is proactive thinking: taking the initiative, being self-motivated. Richard Branson is very vocal about the proactive thinking style for entrepreneurs in general. “Once you have an idea about a product that can make people’s lives better, do something with it. It doesn’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to get it right the first time, as long as you do something”. The leader needs to proactively voice their vision if they want to attract people.

Basically the leader needs to communicate their vision. In order to do that effectively, they need to adapt their presentation to their audience. They need to have at least some understanding of how the talented people they want to attract think and feel. In MindSonar we distinguish between information thinking, activity thinking and people thinking. A modern leader certainly needs a good portion of people thinking.

When it comes to what it takes to retain people, and maybe attracting them as well, we looked at what people want in general as well as what makes for a good team. Here too, the thinking style of focus on people is very important. But also the together thinking style, as opposed to proximity (rational task division) or solo (doing it all by yourself).

Regarding appreciation, the matching thinking style is important (What do I like about this person and their work?). Matching is also an important aspect of psychological safety.

And all these elements will have more impact with a kinesthetic focus, an awareness of feelings. One of Google’s most important team qualities, ‘respecting one another’s emotions’ would be difficult to foster if you’re out of touch with your own emotions.

Engagement BenchmarkSo, in terms of what we can measure with MindSonar in terms of engagement, we are looking for:

  1. People thinking
  2. Together thinking
  3. Matching thinking
  4. Kinesthetic thinking
  5. Proactive thinking

Again, we can compare a MindSonar profile with this benchmark and look at matches and differences between the profile and the benchmark.

In article one and two, we have taken vision and strategy into account. In this third article we looked at engagement. In the next article we will look at the meta programs for resilience, which will complete our Leadership Audit benchmark.

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

  1. People thinking > at least 6 points
  2. Together thinking > at least 6 points
  3. Matching thinking > 6 – 8,5 points
  4. Kinesthetic thinking > at least 3 points
  5. Proactive thinking > 7 – 8,5 points

The risk of extreme positionsIf we are looking for predominantly matching or proactive thinking, why don’t we put the benchmark at 10, at least as an upper limit? We don’t do this because extremes carry risks. Imagine a leader with a 100% ‘matching’ thinking style (100% focus on what’s good, just and correct). This might make for a very happy atmosphere in the short run. People love to be appreciated and the leader will greatly appreciate them. Everything in the organisation is awesome, all arguments are absolutely right, all results are fabulous, every action is perfect and every thought is brilliant. With a possible exception of readers from North Korea, this sounds strange, doesn’t it? And risky. What if there is an obstacle? We have said that the leader should meet outer obstacles with inner resources. But a 100% matching leader might not even notice the obstacle. And if people point it out to them, they might just smile at these people’s foolish but endearing pessimism.

Or, another example, let’s take 10 points (100%) proactive. This person will – in the designated context – respond immediately. Without giving things a second thought. Not only would that be exhausting, it would also be dangerous. They’d be firing and hiring people without thinking. They’d be spending fortunes on whims. They’d be laughing half baked products of measures. That’s why in benchmarks you will rarely find extreme scores.

Leadership Audit: EngagementWith this benchmark, focussing on engagement, we can do a third leadership audit. We can take a MindSonar profile for the context of ‘Leading X’ and then we can compare it with our engagement benchmark. We can look at the similarities and differences to help us decide to what extent someone is showing the engagement aspect of the leadership mindset.

The MindSonar profile below is the same one again: Jonas’ thinking style for the context of ‘Being VeganMarket Director’. This time we will look at his profile from an engagement perspective.

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

  1. People thinking > at least 6 points = Mismatch (score = 4.2: difference = 1.8)
  2. Together thinking > at least 6 points = Mismatch (score = 5, difference = 1)
  3. Matching thinking > 7 – 8,5 = Match (score = 7.4, difference = 0)
  4. Kinesthetic thinking > at least 3 points = Mismatch (score = 1.3, difference = 1,7)
  5. Proactive thinking > 7 – 8,5 points = Mismatch (score = 4,1, difference = 2,9)

You will also notice that not all mismatches in this comparison are of the same size. Together thinking ia a mismatch, but is only 1 point away from the benchmark. Proactive thinking is much further away from the benchmark (2,9 points).

From this audit we may conclude that Jonas could be a better leader when it comes to engagement. He does have all the necessary thinking style elements for strategic thinking, but not as much for engagement.Jonas could improve his leadership mindset. We will describe possible changes in order of importance (in the order of their distance to the benchmark):

  1. Being more active in promoting his vision and interacting with people.
  2. Focussing more on people, rather than activity and information.
  3. Focussing more on his feelings, rather than the stories in his mind.
  4. Focussing more on togetherness: starting to work on strengthening the bonds between team members.

It’s doable!As you can see from the list, this seems quite doable. We are not talking about changing everlasting all-encompassing personality traits. We are talking about thinking style elements that are coachable and trainable. Sure, Jonas may have some personal obstacles when it comes to being more proactive. But when he understands the importance and chooses to change this, he can. He might need some coaching, but coaching is widely available these days.

Combined Leadership BenchmarkWhen we combine the engagement benchmark with the benchmarks we already have for vision and strategy, we arrive at this combination:


  1. Future thinking > 7 – 8,5 points
  2. Towards thinking > 7 – 8,5 points
  3. Matching thinking > 7 – 8,5 points
  4. Visual thinking > 5 -8,5 points
  5. Some kinesthetic thinking > At least 2 points
  6. Internal reference thinking > 7 -8,5 points
  7. Internal locus of control thinking > 7 – 8,5 points


  1. General thinking > 7 – 8,5 points
  2. Some specific thinking > At least 2 points
  3. Towards thinking > 7 – 8,5 points
  4. Some mismatching thinking > At least 2 points


  1. People thinking > at least 6 points
  2. Together thinking > at least 6 points
  3. Matching thinking > 7 – 8,5 points
  4. Kinesthetic thinking > at least 3 points
  5. Proactive thinking > 7 – 8,5 points

As you can see, we have overlaps in the thinking styles matching and kinesthetic. For matching this is no problem since both benchmarks are 7 – 8,5 points. For kinesthetic thinking it is more complex. For the vision benchmark we want a lot of inner images and movies. Vision literally means seeing things. But for the engagement benchmark, we want a substantial amount of feeling. Now we could set 7 points vision and 3 points feeling as our leadership mindset ideal, but that would leave us with a dumbfounded leader: 0 points left for auditory (sounds, words and stories). They would be all pictures and feelings and no words, which can’t be good. So we decided to set the bar at 5 for visual and 3 for kinesthetic, leaving 2 points for auditory.

So in our combined leadership benchmark, we correct visual to ‘at least 5’ and we leave kinesthetic at 3.In this combined benchmark we also reduced all the 10 point maxima to 8,5, to accomodate for the position that extermesre risky.

One good thing about this approach is, that we can now make a fine grained assessment of somebody’s leadership mindset, using only a single MindSonar profile.

This concludes the third article on the Leadership Mindset. Next and last stop: resilience.

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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