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ATD Blog

Ask a Trainer: How Can I Develop a Positive Leadership Mindset?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

In this week’s Ask a Trainer guest post, Ryan Gottfredson explains how leaders can translate good intentions into positive outcomes.

Dear Ryan,

I was recently offered a promotion to a leadership position within my organization, which I’ll start in about a month. I’m excited but also a little nervous. Over the course of my career, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great leaders, but I’ve also worked with some less-than-great ones. I want to be a good leader, but I know that good intentions aren’t enough. As I prepare to take on this leadership role, do you have any advice for how to develop the right kind of leadership mindset?

This is a great question, and I think you’re right: Many leaders do have good intentions but low awareness. Here's the reality of the situation: Sixty percent of employees say that their leaders damage their self-esteem. Sixty-five percent of employees say that they would rather have a new boss compared to more pay. Seventy-five percent of employees say that their boss is the most stressful and worst part of their job. These statistics are just outstanding.

When I present to groups of leaders in different organizations, one of the questions I'll ask is, “Are you trying the best that you can?” All of them will raise their hands, and I believe them. They're trying their best. They have got good intentions. But they're still wreaking havoc on the people that they're leading. That's because when a leader is in self-protection mode, they will make decisions that are best for them, but that will often have unintended negative consequences for those that they're leading.

I was doing a webinar with one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world earlier this week, and I had about 50 people on the webinar that fell into the top 500 leaders in this organization. One question I asked was, “What is preventing you and your organization from being more agile?” The common message that came out was that they feel like there's a command-and-control culture for leadership. It's this rigid, top-down, authoritative leadership style across the organization that prevented them from being agile.


Why would a leader want to engage in a command-and-control style of leadership in the first place? Because it serves their self-protecting desires. It makes them feel more comfortable and stable, it puts them in the position of being right and looking good, and they want to ensure that continues to be the case.

We know that a much more effective leadership style is a bottom-up approach, where we are empowering. We're not telling others what to do, but we're asking what we need to do. That's much more aligned with positive mindsets. When we have an open mindset, a growth mindset, an outward mindset, we're seeing others as people instead of as objects.

The leaders that are struggling out there don't really know it because they think what they're doing is best because they're in self-protection mode. If we could get them to step out of that for a minute, it will help them to see that good intentions aren't having the positive effect that leaders are hoping for.


Learn more about the importance of mindsets from Ryan Gottfredson on the ATD Accidental Trainer podcast. His episode will air on August 11, 2020.

If you have a question for Ask a Trainer, send it to [email protected]. You can find answers to previous questions by visiting the Ask a Trainer hub. Tim will be back next week to tackle a new question.

We welcome your comments and engagement on these posts. All posts are reviewed to ensure appropriateness based on ATD’s requirements for postings in our online communities.

Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

Ryan Gottfredson, PhD is a leadership development author, researcher, and consultant. He helps organizations vertically develop their leaders primarily through a focus on mindsets. Gottfredson is the Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of Success Mindsets: The Key to Unlocking Greater Success in Your Life, Work, & Leadership and The Elevated Leader: Leveling Up Your Leadership Through Vertical Development.

He is the founder and owner of his consulting company, Ryan Gottfredson LLC, where he specializes in elevating leaders and executive teams in a manner that elevates the organization and its culture. He has worked with top leadership teams at CVS Health (top 130 leaders), Deutsche Telekom (500+ of their top 2,000 leaders), Experian, and others. He has also partnered with dozens of organizations (for example, Federal Reserve Bank, Nationwide Insurance, and Cook Medical) to develop thousands of midlevel managers and high-level leaders.

Gottfredson is also a leadership professor at the College of Business and Economics at California State University-Fullerton. He holds a PhD in organizational behavior and human resources from Indiana University, and a BA from Brigham Young University. As a respected authority and researcher on topics related to leadership, management, and organizational behavior, Gottfredson has published more than 20 articles across a variety of journals including Leadership Quarterly, Journal of Management, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Business Horizons, Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, and Journal of Leadership Studies. His research has been cited more than 4,000 times since 2018.

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