The Mind of the Leader: How to Lead Yourself, Your People, and Your Organization for Extraordinary Results

January 18, 2018 Rasmus Hougaard

Accenture is no outlier. A global movement is taking place in the C-suites of thousands of progressive organizations like Marriott, Starbucks, and LinkedIn. The question the leaders of these organizations ask themselves is, “How can we create more human leadership and people-centered cultures where employees and leaders are more fulfilled and more fully engaged?”

As human beings, we are all driven by basic needs for meaning, happiness, human connectedness, and a desire to contribute positively to society. That’s true whether we’re at home, out in the world, or at work. But it’s one thing to realize this and another to act on it. Speaking to our people’s intrinsic motivation calls for leadership and organizations that cater to these desires. It is something that forward-thinking organizations and leaders are increasingly realizing and addressing. As Javier Pladevall, CEO of Audi Volkswagen, Spain, reflected in a conversation I had with him: “Leadership today is about unlearning management and relearning being human.”

In my new book The Mind of the Leader, co-authored with Jacqueline Carter, we provide a way to do this. It outlines how leaders can lead themselves, their people, and their organizations to unlock intrinsic motivation, create real people-centered cultures, and ultimately deliver extraordinary results.

How important is this message? Consider this: In a 2016 McKinsey & Company study of more than fifty-two thousand managers, 86% rated themselves as inspiring and good role models. But this stands in stark contrast to how employees perceive their leaders. A 2016 Gallup engagement survey found that 82% of employees see their leaders as fundamentally uninspiring. In fact, the same survey found that only 13% of the global workforce is engaged, while 24% are actively disengaged.

This seeming lack of good leadership is not because of a lack of effort. According to a recent report, organizations around the globe invest approximately $46 billion annually on leadership development programs. That’s a lot of money for seemingly little return. What is going wrong?

In part, the system is broken: According to research by Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, when many leaders start to feel powerful, their more benevolent qualities start to decline. Corporate leaders are three times more likely than lower-level employees to interrupt co-workers, multitask during meetings, raise their voices, and say insulting things. He also found that leaders are more likely than other people to engage in rude, selfish, and unethical behavior. None of this is going to speak to the intrinsic motivation that we all share.

While the $46 billion spent on leadership training might improve leaders’ effectiveness – at least in a strictly business sense of focusing on the bottom line –something more is needed: Leadership that truly engages employees, leadership that is truly human and speaks to the basic human needs any employee has.

And it starts in the mind of the leader.

Leadership pioneer Peter Drucker said, “You cannot manage other people unless you manage yourself first.” If this is true, the majority of leadership education and training programs have it backward. Most leadership education starts with skills like strategy, people management, and finance. But from Drucker’s point of view, this approach starts at the end and misses the beginning: it’s like building a house by starting with the roof.

Like Drucker, we argue that leadership starts with yourself. More specifically, it starts in your mind. By understanding how your mind works, you can lead yourself effectively. By understanding and leading yourself effectively, you can understand others and be able to lead them more effectively. And by understanding and leading others more effectively, you can understand and lead your organization more effectively – and by “more effectively,” we mean in a way that’s going to tap into your own and your people’s intrinsic motivations and sense of purpose. If you’re able to do that – and we have witnessed that with practice and persistence, anyone can – you’ll have a more engaged and productive workforce. And perhaps more importantly, you’ll be part of creating more happiness, stronger human connectedness, and better social cohesion within and beyond your organization.

For more than a decade, we and our colleagues at Potential Project have trained tens of thousands of leaders in hundreds of companies like Microsoft, LEGO, Danone, and Accenture, utilizing the practice of mindfulness. The outcomes have been thoroughly researched and proven to deliver remarkable results. But with the emerging movement of employees looking for more meaning, happiness, and connectedness, we have asked ourselves what else leaders need for leading themselves, their people, and their organizations for extraordinary results.

As part of this research, we and our research team have surveyed and assessed more than 30,000 leaders from thousands of companies in more than a hundred countries. We have conducted in-depth interviews with hundreds of C-suite executives. And we have reviewed thousands of studies on leadership in the fields of neuroscience, leadership, organizational development, and psychology.

Based on this research, we have conclusively found that three mental qualities stand out as being foundational for leaders today: mindfulness (M), selflessness (S), and compassion (C). Together, we call these foundational skills MSC leadership.

So how do you as a leader achieve MSC leadership, to better engage your people at their intrinsic level and unleash better performance? By applying mindfulness, selflessness, and compassion first to yourself, then to your people, and then to your organization. I am looking forward to sharing the research and tools for this, at WorkHuman 2018 in Austin, Texas.


“Leadership that is truly human starts in the mind of the leader.” @RasmusTPP
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