How to Develop a Leadership Mindset
Discover the mental edge every leader needs to build a successful organization
Good leadership is at the heart of every strong organization.
You want to change the world. You want to inspire others. You want to accomplish big goals and grow your organization.
It sounds like a lot of work – and it is!
But before you roll up your sleeves and start executing on all those big plans, let’s take a step back.
All those things will be easier to accomplish when you start with the right frame of mind.
The legendary golfer Bobby Jones once quipped, “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course – the space between your ears.”
It’s true in golf – and it’s true in leadership, too:
So much of your success depends on having the right mindset.
As a leader, your mindset influences everything. It affects your attitude, how you handle challenges, and how you treat people.
If you have the wrong mindset, it will show in everything you do. And it will hamper the level of success you and your organization can reach.
This article will help make sure that doesn’t happen to you.
We’ll start by answering the question, “What is a leadership mindset?” Here’s a hint: the answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think.
Then, we’ll look at what it means to have a leadership mindset, including key shifts that show you understand how to think like a leader.
Finally, we’ll explore how to develop a leadership mindset. What are the core actions and disciplines you can adopt, starting today, in order to develop a leadership mindset?
Ready to dig in? Let’s get started.
What is a leadership mindset?
A leadership mindset is a way of thinking that helps you foster the skills and instincts you need to direct people toward a common goal.
It encompasses what you believe and what you expect. It’s your attitude toward all your external circumstances and influences.
And your mindset matters so much in a leadership role.
Think about it. You’re bombarded every day with all kinds of things: information, data, personalities, emotions, and unexpected circumstances.
And how you respond to all of it is completely determined by your mindset.
In fact, everything you do as a leader – every decision, every strategic move, every step forward – is shaped by whatever frame of mind you’re in when you make it.
If you have a strong leadership mindset, you’re mentally tuned into the importance of taking initiative, making sound decisions, and leading by example.
You also have the confidence to take risks, the empathy to understand different perspectives, and the humility to recognize your own mistakes.
It’s the mental backdrop to everything you do – and it’s vital not only to your strength as a leader but also to the success of your entire organization.
What does having a leadership mindset mean?
When some people explore the idea of a leadership mindset, they end up listing basic leadership principles and characteristics.
But they’re not the same thing. If you really want to understand the answer to the question, “What does having a leadership mindset mean,” you have to dig deeper.
The best leaders truly think differently than those around them.
That distinction then shows up in how they act and make decisions.
To see what that looks like in action, let’s examine four key aspects of a strong leadership mindset.
As you read them, remember: you can’t manufacture these overnight. But you can be aware of them, practice them, and watch for them in others. Before long, you’ll find that these ways of thinking become second nature.
You see leadership as a privilege.
If you’ve been given a leadership role, then it’s important to realize the privilege you have. When you recognize this responsibility and develop gratitude for it, it will transform you and your actions.
You’ll develop a genuine humility and appreciation for those around you. People respond to that authenticity and want to be a part of whatever mission you’re on.
You recognize that others are counting on you.
Your responsibility as a leader is to help your team do their jobs better.
You define a path forward. You clear the obstacles out of the way. And you equip people with whatever they need to keep moving forward toward that goal.
Leaders who don’t have this mindset think their teams only exist to fulfill their list of tasks and goals.
But everything changes when your realize it’s the other way around.
Others are counting on you for the clarity, resources, and support they need to accomplish their goals.
You understand that when you do your job well, others will win. And when they win, YOU win.
You understand that you cast a shadow.
Whatever a leader does, others follow. This is true of every organization. People will look to you to model their behavior. You make or break the culture.
If you’re always scowling and pointing out the negative, your team will feel the effect of it. That gloomy energy has a way of spreading throughout the whole organization.
But fortunately, this works both ways. If you’re energetic and passionate about what you do, it’s contagious. Others will draw on that energy and bring it to their work, too.
When you understand that reality, you’re consistently aware of behaviors you want to inspire in your team and how you can live them out.
You accept responsibility for looking toward the future.
Leaders influence people toward a common goal or larger purpose. That means that, while they’re deeply invested in their day-to-day work, they’re always looking ahead to what’s next.
If you have a leadership mindset, then you see the future differently.
You have the courage to dream big about what’s possible down the road. You also have the wisdom to prepare for unexpected twists and turns.
It’s your responsibility as a leader to own that thinking around the future, communicate about it, and help others share that vision.
How to develop a leadership mindset
Now that we have a better understanding of what it means to have a leadership mindset, let’s dive into how you can prioritize this way of thinking and make it a part of your daily life.
Here are four key habits you can develop in order to start thinking more like a leader.
Know yourself well.
Self-awareness is key for leaders who want a strong mindset. You will never get good at what you do without it.
Being self-aware means knowing what drives you and what debilitates you: your motivators, breaking points, and inclinations.
Why is this important? Because a leader leads people. If you aren’t able to manage yourself, then how can you manage your team?
When you acknowledge your tendencies, you can anticipate them. And when you do this, you reach the top category of leaders who know how to play to their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses.
Developing a leadership mindset takes mental discipline – and you simply can’t build that discipline unless you are always striving to know and improve yourself.
Capture negative thoughts
Remember the donkey from Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, who always thought it would rain? Can you imagine working for Eeyore? Nobody wants to follow someone like that.
People want to follow leaders who are capable of doing great things and who ignite the same belief in others.
That’s why a huge part of a strong leadership mindset means choosing a positive, “can-do” attitude every day.
Did you know that, according to the National Science Foundation, 80% of our thoughts are negative?
Negative thinking can compound easily, draining your energy and that of your team.
Start paying attention to your thoughts. When they’re negative, pause and ask yourself if that thinking is helpful or true.
If you need to deal with them, write them down and consider potential solutions. This exercise can help you acknowledge the problems that need addressing without letting them overwhelm your thoughts.
When this kind of thinking becomes habitual, you’ll find that positive, can-do attitude is your natural way of thinking.
Focus on growth.
Are you familiar with the concept of a “growth mindset?”
If you have a growth mindset, you believe that your abilities and potential are not fixed, but rather can be developed through effort, learning, and resilience.
It’s not hard to see why that kind of thinking is key to great leadership.
This perspective makes you more willing to take risks and embrace challenges, because you understand you can continue to develop and improve. That sense of resilience also helps you and your team pivot and adapt when circumstances change – and they always do!
By cultivating a growth mindset, you can view failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, instead of seeing it as a defeat or as evidence that you (or someone on your team) doesn’t have what it takes.
Learn, listen, and ask questions.
"It's what you learn after you know it all that counts."
Those words from the late great basketball coach John Wooden remind us just how important it is for leaders to never stop learning.
Leaders don’t have to know it all in order to be respected. In fact, the opposite is true. No one expects you to have all the answers, and it’s okay to admit what you don’t know.
In fact, it will help your team.
When you ask questions, you show your team how much you need them. Nothing inspires people more.
Bring that mindset of curiosity and humility to everything you do. You’ll naturally become a stronger listener, and you can truly tune into what your team is saying – instead of assuming you already understand.
By demonstrating your own curious mindset, you’ll create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable and excited to share what they know. That gives you a much better chance of actually solving problems and improving your organization.
Final thoughts on how to develop a leadership mindset
You can’t truly excel at leadership unless you have the right frame of mind.
But when you know how to develop a leadership mindset, everything else gets easier. Every decision you make automatically goes through that mental filter and is stronger because of it.
Over time, your natural leadership style genuinely shifts to be more confident, visionary, and focused on growth – both for your organization and for the people around you.