Investing in leadership development: Skillset or mindset?

The qualities of successful leaders, and the importance of investing in leadership development.

If you had a $100 to invest in developing your leadership capability, would you spend it on training your leaders in a high performance skillset or a high performance mindset? Which would give the best return on investment?

Research indicates that a high performance mindset is twice as important to high performance outcomes as educational background and technical skills.

A high performance skillset is quite different from a high performance mindset. Please allow me to illustrate.

Over the past 20 years, researchers investigating leadership have identified a range of skills top leaders possess, and which they engage in effectively and consistently when leading teams and managing others.

High performance skillset

Here’s a partial list of the high performance leadership skillset that distinguish exceptional leaders:

  • Communicate a clear vision for the organisation’s future
  • Display a high level of energy and enthusiasm to motivate others
  • Encourage staff to share creative and innovative ideas without fear of being criticised or ridiculed
  • Deal with conflict and work to solve problems in a timely fashion
  • Involve members of staff in decision making when it impacts upon their work
  • Model values, including being trustworthy and doing the right thing
  • Focus on what’s working well and what’s exceptional in individuals, teams and the organisation
  • Identify and build on people’s strengths rather than trying to correct their weaknesses, and consider people’s strengths when delegating work
  • Show through actions and words that every employee is valued
  • Communicate to staff a greater ratio (5:1) of positive feedback than negative feedback.

High performance mindset

Over the same period of time, researchers studying positive psychological capital of highly effective leaders have identified the elements of the work performance mindset of exceptional leaders. Some of these include:

  • Having a clear vision of what they want to accomplish in the future for themselves and their organisation
  • Believing that no matter their age, stage or status, they are always developing over time
  • Having the self-belief in their ability to lead and to be successful
  • Being optimistic
  • Believing in the importance of empathy
  • Possessing a positive, stable self-image and self-acceptance
  • Being resilient by staying calm in challenging situations
  • Being authentic; knowing the importance of being true to themselves and what they stand for, and behaving accordingly
  • Being respectful and valuing others
  • Making a conscious choice to be aware of the positive rather than negative aspects of a situation, person and what has transpired during the day.

Here’s my recommendation on how to invest the $100
For leaders in the beginning phases of their leadership, I’d invest $50 in helping them become aware of and employ high performance leadership skills. And I’d initially invest $50 into high performance mindset training which will not only increase their work performance, it will multiply the impact of all other leadership and talent management programs you are using.

For your senior leadership (and I’d include in this recommendation, for your highest performers), I’d invest $90 of the $100 in mindset training and development. Too many high performers fail to take the next step or lose focus and ambition due to issues surrounding…yes, mindset not skill set.

Your bottom line
Let me finish with having you reflect on three questions that are critical for you to answer if you are concerned with talent insufficiency in your senior leadership ranks. These questions are crucial to answer if you need your leaders to do more with less, if too many are under-performing as well as needing them to lead your organisation through big changes.

Are their significant gaps in the work performance mindset of individuals on your leadership team?
What are you doing to make them more aware of and strengthen their high performance mindset?
What would be the benefit to your bottom line of strengthening their work performance mindset?
Changing mindset is the most difficult task of all – and that’s what we know most about – our leadership programs are all about strengthening the mindset needed for high performance.

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