Executive Leadership: Mindset is the critical issue!

On the 28th June 2017 ETM & Digital Frontier Partners proudly collaborated to run an executive breakfast event here in Melbourne Australia. As a keynote, we had the great Barry O’ Reilly (co-author of the best-selling book Lean Enterprise — How Large Companies Innovate and Scale). Barry was awesome, and the feedback we’ve received from the event has been fantastic.

Back Row: Barry O’ Reilly (Keynote Speaker), Peter Hagenauer (Partner DFP), Chris Stevens (Managing Partner DFP) and Graham Edmeads (Senior Consultant DFP). Front: Stephen Dowling (CEO ETM).

At the very beginning of the session, I facilitated a short exercise with the 32 attendees at the event. This was a select group of very senior leaders (mostly C-Suite exec’s). Our aim was to try and get a sense of their current mindset & beliefs before Barry delivered his keynote session.

MINDSET: A mindset goes to the very heart of every human being. What are your core beliefs, attitudes and assumptions? It’s a mixture of logic and emotion, that has been developed over a person’s lifetime, based on their skills, knowledge & experiences, backed up by their perceptions of what they believe.

EXECUTIVE MINDSET SLIDER EXERCISE: The exercise we ran consisted of 8 individual sliders, where individuals were asked (privately) to place an ‘X’ on each slider reflecting their view, of what they believed was most important. This was not expected to be easy, as both ends of each slider are obviously very important; however, we will argue that if we want to build highly adaptive/agile and lean enterprises, which can thrive in the current & future accelerating VUCA environment (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous), then our mindset and beliefs will need to be, very much, on the right-hand side for ALL of these 8 sliders!

BREAKFAST EXERCISE RESULT: At the breakfast each individual was asked to complete the slider exercise privately. We consolidated the results which can be seen below.

Executive Mindset Slider Exercise — Breakfast with Barry — 28th August 2017

We believe this gives a very interesting insight into one of the biggest challenges facing large established organisations. From this picture, we can clearly see that quite a few senior executives are leaning to the left on a number of these sliders (circled in red).

These answers are valid and consistent with traditional established management practices, however, if we accept that we are now living in a more complex and accelerating VUCA world, then, I will argue that these should now not be seen as the most important! (NB: For a detailed explanation of each slider please see the link at the bottom of the post under ‘Additional Information’).

Beliefs dictate our actions, and if our senior leaders don’t have suitable mindsets & beliefs then in the famous words from Apollo 13, ‘Houston we’ve got a problem!!!

CONCLUSION: At ETM we see ‘MINDSET’ as one of the biggest issues facing managers & leaders today. In our experience, many senior executives have beliefs which may have helped them to get where they are now, but will not help them to get where they need to go in the future.

The world we live in, has been (and is) changing significantly, and we believe it will continue to change at an exponential and unprecedented rate. This new world needs a new approach and a certain mindset.

If executive leaders want to help their organisations survive , grow and prosper, many of them need to unlearn much of what they have learned in the past; not doing this could have very serious implications for their organisations and the people they lead.

The first step is AWARENESS and getting a clear understanding of WHY some of our current beliefs are now no longer working as well as they have in the past.

The next step is to change, and the starting point has to be with ourselves first and foremost, and then we can look to change others! Changing our mental model is not an easy task but it can be done. By way of example, Barry has developed his own program called ExecCamp, specifically to help senior leaders to do this.

By learning to change ourselves, we can continue to be, a critical and valuable asset in helping our organisations grow, prosper and survive in this new and exciting future, and very importantly, setting a great example for those we lead. (Note: My next article will focus on HOW do we go about changing our core beliefs? It’s easy to say not but not so easy to do!)

The implications of changing our mindset will, of course, have VERY big and far reaching implications for our organisations, and our people.

— How should we be structured?

— How should we assign work?

— How will we reward our people?

— How will we make decisions?

— How should we fund work?

— What frameworks, methods and practices are suitable and when?

— What capabilities do we need to develop/build and recruit for?

— How do we ensure organisational learning happens at the required rate?

— How do we ensure everybody is synchronised and aligned?

Each of us needs to go on our own journey based on our own individual situation and context. We don’t believe there will be a magical blueprint to follow; each organisation will need to find their own path. Hard questions need to be asked and debated about priorities and where to start.

As Barry says, we all need to accept now that we are all on a continuous journey of change. The good news, is that change can start very small. In his keynote, Barry introduced us to the great BJ Fogg who shows us that change can start with a tiny habit, and these small habits can end up having very substantial and long-lasting effects.

As a famous Chinese proverb goes, ‘A 5,000-mile walk begins with 1 step ’, so, as leaders, let’s start with a small behavior change which can become a regular tiny habit, and be amazed at how fast the ripples start flowing down through your organisation!


SLIDERS EXPLAINED: Many people who attended the session have requested to know more about this exercise, so, I’ve put together a short paper providing some more summary details of the results from the breakfast, and, explaining each slider in detail, which I hope people may find useful (please see below).




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