The greatest asset of individuals, of teams, of organizations is their mindset. Not the corporate strategy. Not the product. Not even the market.
That’s what Hugh Blane teaches in his new book, 7 Principles of Transformational Leadership: Create a Mindset of Passion, Innovation, and Growth. Hugh is an expert at converting human potential into business results. His consulting firm, Claris Consulting, works with clients ranging from Starbucks to Nordstrom.
I recently spoke with Hugh about his leadership work.
80% of a Leader’s Success is Mental
In the introduction, you share a powerful story from your childhood and your conclusion that 80% of a leader’s success is mental. You’ve seen “mindset” make or break careers and businesses. How much is hardwired and how much is learned?
Mindset is almost all learned. I learned from my parents that money and financial security are fleeting; I learned from my high school track coach that I was a fast runner, and I learned from a mentor that I was capable of living a flourishing life rather than a floundering life. What’s interesting about the question of whether mindset is hardwired or learned is that all of our experiences hardwire our beliefs, we just don’t know it.
The good news is that when leaders understand that their words, actions and values are creating a mindset with employees and customers, they can hardwire the mindset of their choosing. By doing so, they harness the power of mindset not solely for themselves but also for their customers as well as their bottom line.
Just do the minimum “JDTM”. Why is it so prevalent?
The number one reason is a lack of purpose. In The Purpose Principle, I say purpose is a hope, dream or aspiration that has grabbed hold of you and won’t let go. When employees and leaders have a purpose for their professional lives, they are more enthused, exert more energy, and are vastly more persistent. These are the employees that are running to work in the morning because of the contribution they want to make.
There are also employees that are running from work at the end of the day. These employees don’t have a purpose that is compelling, and they do enough work to keep their jobs and not get fired. But there is no fire in the belly, and they are simply going through the motions of work.
Reclaim Your Past and Claim Your Future
What difficulties do most of us have in reframing our past and claiming our future?
The problem most of us have with reframing the past is that we give too much credit to the past. Yes, the past is important, but not nearly as important as the choices we make about what’s happened in the past.
Most people believe the past is the past and what’s needed is to simply move on. I agree, but not before stealing from the past all of the insights I can. There are key events that with curiosity and courage can yield transformational benefits. I’m not advocating long navel gazing sessions and brooding over the sins of our parents, but I am an advocate for seeing hard or uncomfortable events as the catalyst for our greatest breakthroughs.
With regard to reclaiming our future, the main issue is that we’ve become so overscheduled that we have become “human doings” rather than human beings. We’ve insulated ourselves from what we really want because of not having the white space in our lives to think holistically and creatively. However, with five key questions and thirty minutes, an ideal future emerges, and when you can see your ideal future, you take action to make it happen.
Tell us more about the promises principle, its importance, and how it is used by transformational leaders.
Promises, rooted in a compelling purpose, are a game changer. Promises are similar to vows and are non-negotiable. They enhance a leader’s credibility and counter the anxiety employees have when what the leader values, hopes for and wants to create is unclear. Promises convey what the leader can be counted on to deliver, and they communicate what is important.
Transformational leaders use promises to communicate to their employees the type of work environment the leader wants to create. They also send a message to customers about what the customer experience will be like. In both cases, promises set expectations and become a beacon for what people can rely on the leader to do.
How do transformational leaders become better persuaders?
The first way to become more persuasive is to talk about purpose whenever possible: in emails, meetings, employee birthday parties, vendor meetings, all-hands presentations and quarterly reviews. Whenever and wherever employees or customers are gathered, a leader has an opportunity to infuse into the conversation their enthusiasm and commitment to something noble and uplifting.
The second way is the persuasion paradox: Talk less and listen more. Some of the most persuasive leaders I’ve worked with are exceptional listeners. Yes, there is a time and place for what I call expressive persuasion; telling, explaining, inspiring, story telling, etc. But, there is also a time for receptive persuasion: listening, asking questions about context and content, caring about the experience of the other. One of the greatest gifts a leader can extend to customers and employees is to listen to them.
What’s the negative mindset that holds back many leaders from openly and consistently praising their employees? How can this be overcome?
Low self-esteem. The negative conversations most people have with themselves are brutal. They don’t give themselves credit for what they’ve done and repeatedly say things such as, “I should have done more,” “That was not my best work,” and “That was stupid.” This conversation feeds on itself and creates a negative mindset that is inordinately focused on what’s not working rather than what is working. In turn, they see problems and want to correct them as opposed to seeing progress that’s worthy of praise.
You overcome this by focusing on progress over perfection and focusing on what people are doing that is successful and building on that. I talk about this extensively in the Preparation Principle and outline a five-part process that helps leaders focus on progress over perfection.
I’ve also seen the power of perseverance at work. That “fire in the belly” and internal drive just keeps some people going and finding ways around any obstacle in the way. How do transformational leaders infect the whole team with the perseverance principle?
Leaders do this in two ways. The first is to communicate their belief that perseverance is vastly more important than talent. Yes, talent is important, but obstacles and barriers require sustained and consistent effort to be overcome.
Leaders infect their teams when they become excellent role models for perseverance. The best way for leaders to role model perseverance is to discuss where they experienced resistance and how they persevered to success.
The last principle is preparation. I was struck that preparation was not first, but last. Why is that?
Great catch, Skip. You do need to be prepared to become transformational, and this requires having a plan and all the provisions necessary for the journey. My belief is that purpose is the rocket fuel that helps us leave the current ways of working and living and propels us forward. That’s why it comes first. I also think leaders struggle with time management and priority setting. That’s why the Promise Principle comes second. And preparation comes last because after reading my book, all of the principles will become woven together into a leadership DNA strand.
5 Lessons in Positivity from a Tragic Accident
Joe’s story and his positivity after his accident also struck me. What lessons did you take away from his accident?
Several. Here are my top five:
- Life is a gift. We need to remember that our time on earth is short and that life is meant to be savored.
- Love is healing. Love of life, of family, of brothers and sisters changes everything. Love is transformational and, when injured, surrounding ourselves with love changes us for the better and helps us take courageous next steps.
- We have a choice. It’s not what happens to us that is important. It’s what we choose to do after something happens that’s important.
- Pain can’t be avoided. Progress is painful at times. Joe’s Occupational therapy and Physical therapy are painful, but he wants desperately to make progress and is willing to endure the pain. Too many people today believe pain has to be avoided. Not true.
- Rely on others. Americans are independent. We don’t like being told what to do, when to do it or how we should live and work. But for Joe as well as for my company, when I rely on others, my effectiveness and enjoyment go up.
What was it like to run with the bulls in Pamplona? Why did you do it? What did you learn?
Running with the bulls was a lot of fun. I ran partially because I was in Spain and the best man from my wedding was there and wanted to do it. I also ran because I was young and enamored with Earnest Hemmingway and his tales of Spain in The Sun Also Rises. I learned specifically that famous authors can write about running with the bulls but it is highly different in real life. I learned to enjoy reading Earnest Hemmingway while not replicating all of his escapades.
I also learned about risk management. The probability of outrunning a bull is zero. The severity of getting gored by a bull is significant. So, if I can’t outrun a bull, and if I get caught and gored, it could be life threatening, so I learned that the best strategy is to stay very far away from bulls.
For more information, see 7 Principles of Transformational Leadership: Create a Mindset of Passion, Innovation, and Growth