As a principal at the Arbinger Institute, James Ferrell heads up the development of its training and consulting programs where he has trained internationally in industries including healthcare, military, education, biotechnology, finance, government, retail, professional services, hospitality, and more. He also has authored or co-authored multiple bestselling books, including Leadership and Self-Deception and The Anatomy of Peace. In collaboration with his colleagues at Arbinger, Ferrell’s latest book is The Outward Mindset.
Tell us about your work at the Arbinger Institute.
We are a global training and consulting firm that specializes in changing mindsets—that’s foundationally what we do. Research, including recent studies by McKinsey & Company, shows that organizations that identify and focus on changing mindsets are four times more successful in their change efforts than organizations that neglect mindset change.
In most organizations, the lever leaders pull when they’re trying to change things is the behavioral lever only. The problem with that is that, although behaviors drive results, mindset actually drives behaviors. If you don’t shift the mindset from which current behaviors are arising, you end up getting resistance to potential change efforts. People will snap back to their old ways. We change mindsets of organizations from what we call inward-mindset orientations to outward-mindset orientations. That’s really our work—we turn organizations and their people outward; that’s the way we put it.
What does having an outward mindset mean?
An outward mindset means that I am aware of, and interested in, other people’s needs, objectives, and challenges, not just my own. When I have an inward mindset, I have my head down, and I’m focusing on my own narrow lane of responsibility. I’m not really that interested in what others around me are up to and what their challenges are. Consequently, I end up making things harder for other people. I might not intend to, but I just do because I’m neither aware nor, frankly, that interested in what other people are trying to do.
With an outward mindset, that all changes. In an organizational context, I know I’m part of a collective—we’re all trying to fire toward a particular result. It’s incumbent on me to do my role, but I have to do it in a way that helps the people around me to be able to succeed at their roles too. I can only pull that off if I’m working with an outward mindset. If I’m acting with an inward mindset, I end up competing with others and getting in people’s way, even when I’m not intending to.
What are some steps or tips for leaders to begin to change their mindsets and improve their organizations?
In The Outward Mindset, we write about this. There is a basic outward-mindset pattern that people can apply in organizations. The first of the three parts of the pattern is to see others. What we mean by that is to become curious and attentive to the needs, challenges, and objectives of those with whom one interacts and affects. When my mindset is outward, I’m going to be purposeful about building my awareness and understanding about other people. And if I’m a leader, I’m going to open up space and create opportunity within my organization so people are learning about each other’s objectives, needs, and challenges.
The second step in the pattern is to adjust efforts. This means that once I have an understanding of what the people around me are trying to do, I adjust what I’m doing so that I can make my own efforts more helpful to what they’re doing.
The third very critical part has to do with impact. With an inward mindset, I focus on what I do. But with an outward mindset, I focus on the impact of what I do. It’s not just that I’m accountable for what I do; I’m actually accountable for my impact on others—the impact on others of what I do, whether I’m making their work harder or easier, for example. So step three in the outward-mindset pattern is to measure impact.
Then I iterate this pattern. I see others again, I adjust efforts again, and I measure my impact again. As people follow this iterative pattern, they end up operating more with an outward mindset. However, too often this is precisely the opposite of what people commonly do. Often people start by focusing on what they themselves want to do or accomplish. Then they try to get others to act in ways that help them with what they want to do. From our perspective, and in our experience, this common approach is backward. The outward-pattern flips the direction of our strategies and our efforts.
To read the rest of the interview with T+D Magazine, click here.