by Sam Whitney
The Arbinger Institute
Despite the huge amounts of money spent on leadership development programs ($14 billion by American companies in 2012), few organizations seem satisfied with their talent pipeline. Many companies still struggle to effectively develop leaders from within the organization. Why is this?
At Arbinger, we believe one major contributor to this problem is – you guessed it! – mindset. Mindset means the way we see: the way we see challenges, opportunities, and other people. When we hold an inward mindset, we are self-focused. We think about our own needs, challenges, and objectives; we do not consider our impact on others or prioritize organizational goals. Unfortunately, many organizations hold an inward mindset towards their employees. Starting from the top and trickling downward, the organizational mindset focuses on achieving individual rather than collective results.
This inward mindset bleeds into leadership development efforts in three ways:
- Overlooking talent. Finding great future leaders becomes exceedingly difficult if we view employees (our pool of potential leaders) as problems and challenges rather than solutions and opportunities.
- Inviting mediocrity. Because mindset tends to be contagious, employees who could be outstanding leaders may sink into an inward mindset and therefore under-perform. Consequently, they might never be considered for leadership positions. At the same time, an inward mindset causes creativity and innovation to suffer across the organization.
- Inward training. Leadership training in an inward culture can drive talent away or, at best, fall on deaf ears. With an inward mindset, leadership training often subtly tries to “just get people to do what we want.” But people can smell manipulation from a mile away. As Arbinger founder Terry Warner once wrote, “People can’t be successfully manipulated or controlled, no matter what sensitive and benevolent techniques may be used.”
In a previous job, one Arbinger employee experienced these symptoms of inward leadership development.
At this company, most employees started at an entry-level position in the call center and moved on from there. These front-line sales roles required a lot from employees, who felt continual pressure to deliver.
Unfortunately, the company’s systems and culture invited an inward mindset. Promotions favored seniority rather than performance; incentive structures were misaligned; training was more about getting employees to deliver results than about personal development. As a result, employees felt management treated them like cogs in a machine rather than people. It seemed management simply did not care, and top talent quickly left the company.
An outward mindset enables effective leadership development
Where people are allocated, how we measure their contributions, what people do with their time at work, and what achievements are recognized are all a function of our mindset as an organization.
We believe leadership development is about seeing people as people and removing the factors that limit growth. This outward mindset allows employees to become self-accountable – to take initiative, assess their own performance, and take charge of improving on their weaknesses. Giving people this space to thrive – to show what they are capable of – is the foundation for truly effective leadership development. Those with the desire and capacity to excel as leaders have the opportunity to do so.
But it starts with a deep-seated change in the way the organization sees its people. Developing an outward mindset will create a culture that breeds creative, innovative, and driven leaders for the future.