Contributed by Hun Boon Tan, a research manager and associate coach at BTS, an organization that works with leaders at all levels to help them make better decisions, convert those decisions to actions and deliver results.

Mindset is the root cause of behavior. And because mindsets are often shaped by an individual’s beliefs, assumptions and biases, they sometimes need changing. Therefore, coaching can be a powerful, transformative experience for many leaders—it forces people to explore their personal perceptions of the world and question whether corresponding feelings are based on fact or opinion.

Based on my company’s database of more than 100,000 coaching conversations, two mindset groupings appear to be of most interest to coaches and would serve well as the foundation of employee development efforts. Although our mindset map consists of four key domains, these “Be” and “Relate” domains made up 86 percent of the discussions.

  • The Be mindset relates to how a person responds to situations, which is vital in a fast-paced world where people are constantly bombarded by external stimuli. It’s also the reason why this mindset is at the heart of leadership development efforts.
  • The Relate mindset focuses on an individual’s ability to empathize with and adapt to other people. Many leaders remark that the toughest part of their role is managing so many personalities, so this, too, can be critical to development.

Nurturing a productive mindset in leadership

Coaching leaders to adopt a more productive mindset can be a difficult job. You’re asking someone to change, which is a tough topic to broach and can be a hard task for anyone to master. That said, focusing on mindset can improve the efficacy of leadership development—or at least that’s what 66 percent of organizations found when employing similar efforts.

If you choose to develop mindset changes within your leadership team, here are a few ideas to keep in mind:

1. Assist in identifying emotional triggers (“Be” mindset).

People often react to situations without taking the time to consider the likely causes or available solutions. For the most part, the reason for this can be traced back to emotional triggers. Naturally, the first step is to work with team members to recognize their triggers. Once identified, employees begin to understand why they’re feeling a certain way when faced with specific challenges. This self-awareness then presents an opportunity to acknowledge personal limitations, analyze situations from different perspectives, and move from instinctual reactions to deliberate responses―which is much more productive in the long run.

2. Coach employees to seek understanding―not debates (“Relate” mindset).

When people seek understanding, they put themselves in a position to empathize with others. The goal isn’t to debate, but rather to get to the bottom of that person’s motivations so you can arrive at a solution that works for all. Perhaps a leader has been debating with a team member for the better part of a week. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that the person is just opinionated, coaching might help this leader realize that he or she is imposing his or her perspective on the other person. A much better option would then be to hear the team member out. Not that the two individuals won’t still disagree, but at least it’ll be a thoughtful disagreement where both parties exchange ideas rather than debate to win.

3. Employ role-playing to improve perspective (“Relate” mindset).

Role-playing can be a powerful tool in many coaching sessions, as the activity builds on someone’s knowledge and experience in practical terms. The team member is mentally walking in another person’s shoes, which provides a deeper appreciation for the driving force behind certain reactions―or, as the popular Chinese saying goes, “The spectators see more of the game than the players.” Going through this activity also teaches team members how to create “distance” in any given moment. They appreciate the need to step back and understand the other person’s perspective before engaging in the conversation, and especially during tense interactions.

As a leader, you are expected to coach your team members and help them develop into stronger, more resilient employees. Changing mindsets is the key to changing behaviors―and when it comes to leadership, behavior counts. A leader’s behavior will impact every interaction with employees and clients. Leaders need to be both deeply self-aware (Be mindset) and able to understand others’ perspectives (Relate mindset). By working on their mindsets, leaders can make a bigger impact on their teams.

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