Every leader wants to be successful. Not all are. The biggest area that differentiates how leaders are successful at becoming inclusive and high performing leaders is not what most people initially think. Most people initially think “competence” and, yes, that is a given: having the knowledge, skills and abilities to lead the business or the function, the “WHAT” of the job, is obviously critical.  But that doesn’t complete the secret sauce of success.  

“HOW” the work gets done, is where leadership really comes in. How you lead, behave, communicate, negotiate, make decisions, deal with conflict, and manage relationships are all determined by the common denominator that differentiates high performance leaders: their ability to manage their mindset, or the “lens” through which they view situations and ultimately behave. 

What is Mindset?

Mindset is the core of how one makes sense of reality. “Reality” is created by the belief system people have, which most people assume is “the truth” versus the lens through which they are looking. 

A simplistic version of how the brain processes starts with the fact that humans have 60,000-80,000 thoughts per day the brain sorts into categories such as “this is good, bad, safe, unsafe, true, not true, etc.” based on everything that makes you you: where you were born, family values, religion, race, education, cultural background and experiences, to name a few. 

The danger of our brain’s sorting system occurs at 2 levels:

  1. We think we are “right”: This is the lens through which we look. We have stacks of evidence to prove we are right and our ability to listen lowers proportionally the more right we think we are.
  2. We think our thoughts are “true”: When we lock into a belief, we tell ourselves “this is reality, this is how it is.” Our listening and interest in others’ points of view is often especially low the more absolute our “truth” appears.

Our thoughts then drive our reactions which feel like the only possible response in that moment. 

High performing leaders know there is freedom and power to choose their thoughts and behaviors when they unhook from believing their thoughts are “the truth”.

The beliefs one has determine their subsequent actions, behaviors and how flexible, agile and coachable they are. They are the key to unlocking the ability of anyone to succeed because they ultimately determine how much people can change and grow. 

How to Identify Beliefs

In 1957, Dr. Albert Ellis first identified how to change what he called “irrational beliefs.” In our work with executives and their teams, our leadership version of Dr. Ellis’ model focuses on identifying and managing beliefs includes three steps in what we call the A-B-C Model:

1.  A: ACTIVATING TRIGGER: This is the non-negotiable fact that happens. For most people, it is difficult to identify the event in a fact-only format: we are wired to commingle fact with the interpretation of that fact when they are actually two distinct things. The key is to identify what happened as the undeniable, simple action of what actually happened which requires the ability to look at something objectively.

Here are some fact-based examples of “What Happened?” if we played it back on video without our opinions or commentary: 

  1. He spoke
  2. He asked me a question
  3. She did not ask for my input
  4. They didn’t invite me to the meeting
  5. They made the decision

Here are some common examples of what we usually hear when we ask “What Happened? when our interpretations are masking as facts:

  1. He yelled
  2. He threw me under the bus
  3. She was arrogant
  4. They ignored me
  5. They left me out 

2.  B: BELIEFS: This is the thought (often called the belief or story) you have about the event. It feels like “the truth” and in reality, it is your interpretation of the situation. 

Examples A:

  1. He was disrespectful
  2. He interrogated me
  3. She doesn’t value me
  4. I’m not part of the “in group”  
  5. They treat me as a ‘second-class citizen’

There are always more ways to look at the situation – you can look at the worst case version or give the benefit of the doubt. Here is the same “fact” from above, looking through a different lens.

Examples B:

  1. He was direct
  2. He asked questions for context
  3. She didn’t reach out since she had what she needed
  4. I have time to focus on priorities
  5. I trust my peers to make the decision

The key is you get to choose which lens you will use to look at a situation: there are always other interpretations, or lenses through which you can look at the same situation – A or B. Who chooses? You do.

3.  C: CONSEQUENCES or CHOICES:  These are the behaviors or actions you take as a result of your beliefs. You choose actions that have you operate as your best self, or those that have you be less effective. Part of your ability to choose is based on your ability to depersonalize, which you can read about how to do here. 

Examples of options for how you can react

  • Avoid/Withdraw
  • Work harder
  • Get defensive
  • Become (passive) aggressive
  • Ask for help
  • Request feedback
  • Provide context
  • Delegate

Shifting Beliefs

“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

Viktor E. Frankl

A recent session with a leadership team had them discussing a significant Enterprise issue the company has been wrestling with for over nine years. The breakthrough that occurred was when they began to identify the limiting beliefs that were preventing progress. Once they identified their limiting beliefs, they were able to shift them to new beliefs, which then unlocked their ability to take action and make BOLD requests to one another.

Several examples of the team’s mindset shifts included:

How to Create New Beliefs 

BOLD leaders have limiting beliefs just like everyone else. Their secret is that they know how to change them. 

There are 3 main steps leaders take to create new beliefs:

1. Pause. Bold leaders are self-aware and practice the pause. They stop and realize they are locking into being “right” or thinking their opinions are “true” especially when they are collaborating, influencing or making decisions with others. When this happens – which it does for everyone – stop and breathe and reset your openness (and willingness) to look at someone or something differently.

2. Observe. This is the hardest and most important step. A metaphor: imagine you are in a play on a stage. When you become an observer, you are able to see the play from a different angle, such as being in the audience, in the balcony, or even the director of the show. By observing, you are able to be a step removed, depersonalize, and see your beliefs for what they are – options – that you can choose to keep OR change. This step is the hardest because it is difficult to unhook from the belief that you are right, it’s the truth and there is only one way to view the situation. 

3. Ask. Dr. Carol Dwek talks about leaders who have fixed versus growth mindsets. Those with fixed mindsets see the current situation as it is with no option to view it differently. Those with growth mindsets naturally create the pause, question what they are thinking and ask, “How can I look at this differently? What can I learn?” This is self-coaching. Use this often. It will work, to a point. There will always be situations where you will need to reach out to challenge your thinking with a coach or colleague who can help you look at situations from another lens.

Ask Yourself:

  • What is the biggest takeaway I’m getting about how to Manage My Mindset? (hint – if this doesn’t feel like a powerful tool, reach out to Gisele Garcia Shelley or others because this one has the power to change your leadership and life.) 
  • What is one thing I can do to remind myself I can change my mindset, especially when I’m locked into being right? (hint – ask: “what is another belief or story I could have about this situation?”)
  • Who is someone I can rely upon to help me check my beliefs and shift them when necessary? (hint – pick someone you trust. Peer coaches can be powerful resources, sounding boards and reality checks. Don’t do this alone.)

Please feel free to reach out to Gisele Garcia Shelley if you’d like to connect about how to apply these learnings, to help members on your team navigate these conversations, or to discuss the biggest current challenge you are facing today.

Wishing you good mental, physical, emotional and social health. 

For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving, please remember gratitude is a mindset, an offer, a practice or simply a moment we can all take to inspire, or breathe life into, ourselves and those we love. 

Remember to find resources to inspire you here.

Yours in practice,



PS – If you missed our most recent article in Thrive Global called 1 BOLD Tip to Overcome Impostor Syndrome, check it out here.

If you are interested in exploring how to unlock the potential of yourself, your team or the women in your organization , contact us for a complimentary discovery conversation.