30 March 2016 •

The Leadership State of Mind – The role of a Leader

Leadership: The role of a leader can have many facets. However, for anyone who leads people in an organisation, there is one thing that is highly desirable, if not essential: the ability to get consistently good, if not excellent, performance from their people.

As a business coach over the past dozen or so years and having had the privilege of going into many businesses, both large and small, it is obvious that some leaders excel in this area and some most definitely seem to bring out the worst in people!

Whilst the business world abounds with theories and techniques of how to be a great leader, there is something that is little understood and yet is right at the very core of effective leadership. To try and create a context for this I will share a situation that I came across a while back.

A company I was working with was a high-tech business with a workforce of around one hundred people. Two people were leading the business. One of them was often tense and had the tendency to be quite sharp with people. The other was warm, calm and approachable. Unsurprisingly, the way that people responded to each of them was completely different. To the first, people were guarded, defensive and often put up resistance to his ideas. With the second, people were far more comfortable around him and he tended to get a lot more from people without really trying to.

Whilst the differing leadership behaviour of the two was obvious, it was in fact a result of what I would call ‘state of mind’.  Behind how any of us behave, in any moment, is how we are feeling. For instance, if we are feeling tense, over-burdened or insecure then our behaviour, and certainly how other people perceive us, will be totally different to when we feel calm, relaxed and present.

Each and every one of us can experience times when we feel tense, anxious or worried. However, this is not actually the problem. The real problem is the illusion (albeit a very persistent one) that circumstances cause feelings. For example, if a business goes through a challenging period and it looks like the circumstances are responsible (like a downturn in sales) then it is going to seem as though nothing but a change in circumstance will bring relief.


This was exactly the case with the leader who felt tense – he thought that his job was inherently one of high-pressure and so he felt like a victim of circumstance.

A new understanding

Difficult though it may be to initially grasp, our feelings do not come from our circumstances; they come from our thinking about our circumstances. When we pause to consider this we know it to be true, as evidenced by two very important facts. Firstly, not everyone reacts in the same way to an event. Secondly, we can, and often do, change our minds. If circumstances directly caused feelings then neither of these would be possible.

Feelings always come from thought in the moment (inside-out) rather than directly from circumstances (outside-in). Although it may seem like a small point, this understanding changes literally everything. Throughout the years that I have been teaching and mentoring this understanding to business people, I have noticed several consistent and extremely valuable changes that occur:

  • People bounce back from set-backs much, much more quickly; in effect they become more resilient
  • People’s inter-personal skills and leadership ability rises and with no effort to do so
  • People’s performance increases (e.g. better decision making, time management, increased focus)
  • People become more creative because their minds are not over-burdened or pre-occupied with lots of unnecessary thinking

In the earlier example of leadership, I simply shared the ‘inside-out’ understanding with the leader who came across as tense. No tips, techniques or advice were given. It took a little while to start to make sense to him (as it did with me) but, over just a few months, he significantly lightened up as he began to understand that his state of mind was a product of his own thinking rather than his circumstances.

People were different around him as they responded to his new state of mind – they were more responsive, more willing to trust him and became more productive. He had discovered a new way of leading – through rapport rather than coercion.

For further reading about leadership, see our other post – ‘Is Your Boss a Dictator’.

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“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” - Henry Ford

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