In my professional role as a psychological coach and management consultant, I work with leaders of multinational companies to grow the leadership mindset that will help them find solutions to the challenges their businesses face.
One of the consistent messages I send is the need to embody the six attributes of a leadership mindset: genuine curiosity, enterprise thinking, flexibility of mind, mindfulness, resilience, and creating leaders. When a leader of a business embodies those attributes, they do more than shift their mindset. Once they shift the way they think, they see their challenges differently. That means seeing the nuts and bolts of what seems like an intractable challenge in a new light, and that new solutions are now possible.
This doesn’t just apply to leaders in business. With worsening teacher-pupil ratios and rapidly changing school environments, operationalising the six aforementioned attributes provides us with our own personal North Star for meaningful change. Let’s therefore look at what operationalising three of those attributes – genuine curiosity, enterprise thinking and flexibility of mind – might look like.
Genuine curiosity is a learning mindset. It asks why – not simply to answer a question, but to push the boundaries of our thinking. The questions asked can be profound in their simplicity. Where is the subtle flexibility within the National Curriculum to cater to the needs of the pupils we see every day? Why do we teach a subject the way we do? Is there another way to balance workload across a school’s staff?
Asking why matters, but asking why is tough when we’re looking at processes so well-established that it’s easy to forget that they weren’t given to us chiselled into stone tablets. Of course, we can choose not to look at our way of working with genuine curiosity. If that feels like the safest option, we’re forgetting that we don’t have to do anything with the answers genuine curiosity throws up. In that sense, looking at how we work with genuine curiosity is a risk-free experiment that will be successful, whatever answers surface, because the goal isn’t to solve a problem – it’s to ask the questions.
If we choose to ask why, the emerging answers can take us in the direction of finding revolutionary solutions to seemingly impossible challenges. It works that way because the answers we throw up lead us to a different train of thought where we begin to see not just one idea, but several. That happens when we realise there’s always more than one valid solution to every challenge. Not all of them will be desirable, not all will be attainable, but all of them will have elements that shine.
In our goal of operationalising the six attributes, seeing multiple valid ideas is our clue that genuine curiosity has done its job and that we’re ready to develop a revolutionary idea. What makes an idea revolutionary? When it’s an idea that excites and scares us in equal measure.
Because we’re working with a leadership mindset here, as we develop that revolutionary idea we do so with an eye on the whole enterprise. When we’re in the playground of enterprise thinking, it’s worth remembering that we always work in the best interests of whatever we consider the enterprise to be, which is as true for educators in a school as it is for the staff of a global company.
If I see the enterprise as me, I’ll work in my own best interests. If I see the enterprise as my faculty, then I’ll work hard for that, defending it tooth and nail from any threats, real or imagined. If I see the enterprise as the whole school, then guess in whose interests I’ll be working?
When we live the six attributes of a leadership mindset, the enterprise isn’t us, or even our students. When we live the six attributes we work in the best interests of everyone – ourselves, yes, but also our students, colleagues, school, and future educators. That’s what will excite you about a great idea; the ability to see the positive changes ahead when your idea works.
Why does it scare you? Because you know you’ve broken the wheel of ‘We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way’. Doing something different isn’t just a breath of fresh air, but a challenge to the way we think. Changing that means changes to the way we behave.
Put like that, perhaps it’s easy to see where the nervousness might comes from. We’re choosing to stand out, we’re choosing to shine a light on a challenge and we’re choosing to lead. If that doesn’t give us pause for thought on whether we want to carry on, what will?
Feeling nervous when developing a revolutionary idea is baked into the concept. It can only be a revolutionary idea if it makes us nervous and excited.
Flexibility of mind
Now that we know what a revolutionary idea is, let’s think about how we get one. Genuine curiosity has already given us some answers to our ‘why’ question. Flexibility of mind will help us take those answers and see the validity of several ideas. What I mean by this is that no idea is all right or all wrong – all ideas have some merit.
Working on developing an ultra-strong adhesive, but can only come up with a weak, pressure-sensitive one? Great – let’s put a strip of it at the top of a small piece of paper and voila. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Post-it notes.
That’s what flexibility of mind does. It finds the grain of gold in many valid ideas and creatively combines them to develop a revolutionary one. And because we’re thinking of the enterprise as inclusively as we can, it’s one that serves the needs of everyone.
Having a revolutionary idea means more than simply seeing things differently, however, and operationalising all six attributes involves more than effecting a shift in thinking. It’s what we do with our new-found perspective that matters, which is why the final step is to put our revolutionary idea into motion. A leadership mindset is a contagion. As we embody the six attributes, we shift how we work and what we think is possible. And as it ripples out, it touches and grows the mindset of others.
Important mindset considerations
- Mindsets are developed through the experiences we’ve lived; shifting mindsets is about being willing to expose ourselves to new experiences
- Allow doubt into your thinking. That may sound unnecessary, or even scary, but think about it like this – if we’re certain in our thinking and ways of doing things, how much room are we leaving to flex our thinking?
- Simple questions are often the most profound, because they prompt us to interrogate the foundation of our thinking.
- The focus of the six attributes is ourselves. It’s natural, and understandable, to wish that others were more flexible or more curious; the measure of our own flexibility is our willingness to adapt what we’re doing to bring others on board
Joe Britto is a psychological coach, management consultant, and author of the book The Six Attributes of a Leadership Mindset available now from Crown House Publishing by ; find out more about the six attributes at sixattributes.com.