We define a mindset as the beliefs, attitudes and values that filter the way that we look at the world. The mindsets that leaders adopt are critical because mindset and behaviour are inseparable. Our mindset influences our thought process, which in turn influences how we act and ultimately what we do.3
In reverse, our actions and experiences also influence our mindset. To thrive now and for years to come, leaders must be prepared to let go of mindsets that are holding them back and master those that will help them flourish.
The leaders we interviewed had a set of mindsets that made them truly stand out from the crowd as future-fit. In a more intricate and ambiguous business era, where leaders are constantly pulled in different directions by competing demands, they demonstrated a set of mindsets that allowed them to move past a black and white or ‘either-or’ way of thinking and towards a ‘both-and’ mindset. They were able to acknowledge competing tensions, embracing them so that they could be explored to their fullest potential, allowing for a broader range of possible solutions.
Whilst it was clear from the interviews that these leaders held tightly to their core values and long-term ‘missions’, the stories and examples they shared often highlighted how they were able to flex their mindsets in response to the situations they encountered. This enabled them to avoid getting trapped by idealism and make progress towards ambitious goals, without losing their sense of self, authenticity or integrity.
In total, our findings suggest there are five essential mindsets leaders need to adopt if they are to be successful in the future. Each mindset is paradoxical: seemingly contradictory yet interrelated. No mindset can achieve performance without its pair, and leaders must embrace all five mindsets to become ‘future-fit’.
The five paradoxical mindsets of future-fit leaders:
- Confidently humble leaders inspire others to have confidence in them and their ability and they’re honest about their limitations, aware that they can’t achieve ambitious goals alone.
- Responsibly daring leaders believe everything is worth trying and anything is possible and they’re accountable for what they achieve and how they push the limits.
- Politically virtuous leaders enhance performance by being shrewd in the circumstances and know that they always have to do the right thing.
- Ambitiously appreciative leaders know that to achieve ambitious goals they need to be relentless and determined and they need to find a way to be sustainable and keep perspective.
- Ruthlessly caring leaders make tough decisions to achieve performance and remain compassionate no matter what.
Organisations should therefore be building leaders’ self-awareness and encouraging them to engage in honest self-reflection. Our findings suggest each of the five paradoxical mindsets are anchored and held in balance by a leader’s self-awareness. For example, research suggests that politically savvy leaders are not only socially astute, tuned in to those around them and diverse social situations, but tuned in to themselves; able to maintain perspective, act conscientiously and keep a healthy gauge on their accountability to both themselves and others.4