All Articles Leadership Management Want to be a better leader? Get inside your head

Want to be a better leader? Get inside your head

Research and a new book suggest that at least part of good leadership starts in your mind.

4 min read


Mind of the Leader


As leaders, you’re often told to that in order to stem overthinking, you need to “get out of your head.” And while it’s true that too much introspection causes either oversimplification or excessive rumination, a new leadership book suggests that you should consider what’s going on in that noggin of yours.

Want to improve your leadership? The place to start is your mind.

In “The Mind of the Leader: How to Lead Yourself, Your People, and Your Organization for Extraordinary Results,” authors Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter offer a compelling argument: too much of the $46 billion dollars spent annually on leadership development focuses on improving the external drivers of behavior such as setting strategy, managing resources and offering incentives. This focus misses an important element in developing leaders: their mental mindset.

Hougaard and Carter argue that leadership starts with three core mental qualities — mindfulness, selflessness and compassion — that comprise “MSC Leadership.”

Mind of the LeaderSo, yes, the authors invite you to take up residence in your mind and get comfortable there. Leadership, it would seem, is an inside job. If that sounds a bit squishy for your taste, consider this: the book is based on findings from hundreds of research studies showing the benefits of mindfulness, selflessness and compassion for individuals, leaders and organizations. The authors also engaged leading scientists and a team of researchers to contribute and provide validation.

Moreover, the book is based on survey results from nearly 35,000 leaders from over a hundred countries, which provides the real-life examples that demonstrate how these mental qualities can help create what Hougaard and Carter call “a more human leadership and people-centered culture.”

How is it that these new-age sounding qualities are the foundation of strong leadership? Hougaard and Carter point to understanding the power of intrinsic motivation — and a leader’s ability to harness it — as the means to unleash optimal performance of their workforce.

Without a clear understanding of what motivates people, “even technically gifted and well-intentioned leaders can unknowingly create an indifferent — or even hostile — work environment,” they write. Leaders who manage their mind in a way that creates less unconscious bias will be able to see the potential of their people and therefore will foster a stronger sense of commitment with their team.

Here are three ideas offered up by Hougaard and Carter that will help you develop these important leadership traits.

  1. Mindfulness is the ability to focus your attention. Start a practice of blocking at least 15 minutes out on your calendar every day that is devoted to disconnecting: no phones, emails or other distractions. Practice sitting quietly (or go for a brief walk), allowing your mind to simply be quiet.
  2. Selflessness is the ability to let go of your ego and give your people the space to do what they do best. Consider what the words “being of service” mean to you. Identify one way you can better serve someone in your organization or the broader community. Note: Many times, being of service is a simple, easy act, such as sitting and listening to someone in need.
  3. When you offer compassion as a leader, people feel safe and connected.  Research has shown that actually practicing compassion for a few minutes each day measurably increases your ability to feel compassion for others. To develop compassion for your colleagues, think about someone who is struggling. Sit quietly and imagine how they are feeling but do not mentally take on their burden. Instead, imagine offering them support and compassion.

Are you placing too much emphasis on the external factors that drive your leadership effectiveness? Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your mental game. Get inside your head and decide what role mindfulness, selflessness and compassion can play in upping your leadership game.


Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Join her Facebook community The People Equation and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”

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