The Leadership Mindset

Written by: Brady Drake
Chris Thompson, Founder & Owner, Chris Thompson Coaching LLC

The brain – a limitless machine of thinking, processing, and emotions. The results of what our brain does drive our actions at work, home, and play – and ultimately leads to our results in life. And with so much going on up there, it’s important to pause and be intentional about how we manage this amazing tool. For example, we could make excuses, blame others, or focus on the barriers. Or we could choose to live a life as big as we want, be open to taking risks, let go of what we think we “should” do and do what lights us up. Why not use our brain to lead ourselves? There is no one who knows us more intimately, cares more about our goals, or is more qualified to lead us to our future then each of us personally. And the best news is: it’s empowering. The Leadership Mindset puts us in the driver’s seat of our own life by utilizing cognitive science to be the boss of our own brain.

I’ve had a lot of great roles throughout my career – from teaching high school students in Texas to starting my coaching business and leading teams at Microsoft in Fargo. And the examples of how people approach a situation leading to a related outcome are endless. As a teacher, I would see firsthand students with the same background and resources encounter the same challenge, yet resulted in totally different outcomes. Then I saw adults in their workplaces, again the same opportunities to succeed, same challenge, and a different result. Why do some people excel at a particular problem, and some do not? Over and over, from high school students to technical hires, it became clear that the thoughts that individuals have about their future and their abilities influenced their outcomes. When looking closer, the high school students had very different approaches to the problem: one student felt asking a question made him look clueless; and the other felt asking was a step on his path to being the first in him family to graduate. These differing thoughts produce different actions and therefore different outcomes.

When earning my degree, I took a course that explained Cognitive Behavioral Psychology. Little did I know at the time, but these principles have provided so much insight into my roles of teacher, leader, and also as a self-manager of my own mind through loss, growth, and change. Boiled down, your thoughts create your feelings which influence our actions and then our results. So, for example, if our thought is “I can’t learn to ride a bike, it’s too hard” that probably leads to a discouraging type of feeling and our actions are filled with proving our thought to be true. Instead, a learner who thinks, “I can learn hard things, or I just haven’t learned that yet” creates a very different feeling for themselves, possibly curiosity or focus and their outcome when trying that task will likely be different. Today, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a large tenet of coaching and training. Apps like Headspace, Noom, and Bloom are dedicated to helping people manage their thinking.

The brain is our most powerful tool and the better we understand it, the more we can utilize it to achieve our goals, evolve and live the lives we imagine. In a particular day, the human brain handles over 6 thousand thoughts with 80% of them being negative if left unmanaged. As humans, our ability to plan thoughtfully is the thing that makes us uniquely human. As we all are proud owners of a brain, we automatically get the titles of “leader” or even “brain CEO”. No matter what job title we hold in “real” life, we are 100% in charge of how we manage our minds on purpose.

3 Keys To Developing a Leadership 3 Mindset

  1. Ask better questions, get better answers. Notice the difference when you ask this question to yourself, “Why can’t I figure this out?” versus “What are all of the steps I can take as I figure this out?” Our brain wants to be helpful so when you ask it a question, it’s going to try to answer it. Ask questions that put it to work creating solutions.
  1. Take a turtle step. A turtle step is the smallest component of a goal that you can take. As in, if you want to improve your health, maybe the turtle step is to start drinking 2 extra glasses of water per day. When you master that, work on sleep habits. Keep adding turtle steps until you’re where you want to be. Turtle steps done repeatedly lead to results. Leaders who can do this for themselves and their teams end up simplifying complex ideas and projects into achievable pieces.
  1. Start with yourself. This means being CEO of your learning, your career, your health, and your relationships. What are your goals? Do you have a plan to achieve them? How does your brain learn best? What are your top three values so you can use them to make decisions consistently? In what environment do you thrive? How much money do you want to make? When you are honest with your answers, you are then in a place where you can take action to get there. There is no other human on the planet that knows the answers better than we do for ourselves and frankly, no one is more vested. Don’t wait for a manager to provide learning or career goals, this is your superpower as the leader of your own brain. Leaders who are clearer on their goals and values, and know how to manage their own mindset are also clearer in leading others to do the same

What if… we thought about our goals this way?

Option 1: Your Goal

Thought – “I can’t fall, this must work.”
Feeling – Guarded
Action – Set tiny goals that I know I can achieve, don’t take risks, limit world to what I already do well.

Probable outcome – Focus on not failing vs. going for something amazing. Regret not trying.


Option 2: Your Goal

Thought – “I’m willing to fail repeatedly for the sake of this huge, amazing goal.”
Feeling – Determinated
Action – Take smart chances, grow from the learning, keep trying, have fun.

Probable outcome – I learn, gain wisdom, experience, understanding and confidence.

One of my favorite examples of how this works is from while I was watching a child take a horsebackriding lesson and they were hesitating to pick up the reins. The instructor told the child, “Either you can be the leader or your horse can be the leader, either way one of you is going to lead. Trust me, you’re going to want to be the leader.” An unmanaged brain is going to continue to think, come to conclusions, tell yourself stories, and drive actions. And trust me, you’re going to want to be the leader of your most powerful muscle instead of it managing you.

Teaching the cognitive thought model and then applying it to business and leadership scenarios is the focus of the leadership mindset training. It’s one thing to understand how to do something, and yet often we don’t take those actions because of the way we are thinking. For example, a common scenario that I hear from both employees and leaders is regarding feedback. Employees want more feedback and leaders struggle to give feedback that is actionable. Employers get stuck with thoughts like, “I want them to like me, I don’t want to hurt their feelings, and I will tell them when I see them next month”. The most effective leaders at building teams are thinking something more like, “I really want to help this person improve so my job as a leader is to give them actionable, clear, timely feedback and then support them as they grow.” They are focusing outward on the employee versus inward on themselves and their barriers. Additionally, effective employees are those that are skilled at asking and acting on feedback because they have a thought that feedback isn’t personal, it’s their path to growth. Sound familiar? It’s all in your mindset!

Managing our brain has so many positive benefits. We all know of and possibly are examples of high performers who have grinded our way to results. The downside of the “nose to the grindstone” method is that it often results in a high cost to our health, happiness, and contributes to burnout. As humans, our foundation is our mindset and when we understand how to maneuver it on purpose, there isn’t anything that we work through. And this preparation makes us able to better manage life events like change, failure, and loss more easily. It is possible to be highly impactful and mentally and physically well at the same time.

Managing your brain, instead of it managing you, is a game-changer. Once you learn this skill, it not only applies to your workplace and team, but almost always transfers over to managing your mind better in all aspects of your life. Often, people will get coaching for a businessrelated issue and then find out they are using this new tool all over the place outside of work. They are using it with their kids, their weight loss and health, their relationships, and their overall goals.

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.