Nicolette Veltman

How do you cultivate a leadership mindset?

Inspire Group CEO, Dan Tohill, interviews Inspire Group Leadership Development Manager Nic Veltman on the topic of mindset and how it is a fundamental consideration in leadership development.


In this episode we cover:

  • Why mindset is so important in the context of leadership development
  • What’s the ideal mindset for someone on a leadership journey?
  • How you can change or shift your mindset?
  • And much more.


Listen to episode here:

Or read the interview summary below:


Why is mindset so important to a leadership development programme?

In our careers in L&D, we all know that if you're a prisoner at a learning event, it's unlikely that anything will go into your head. So if you're going to invest time in developing yourself as a leader, you really need to start with your mindset.


You need to ask yourself, where your head’s at? You need to ask yourself, do you want to develop? Do you think you've got to where you need to be, or do you think there's room for improvement? So when starting any leadership programme, mindset is key.


When we talk about mindset, it's not just growth mindset?

It's just mindset, mindset in general. Everybody talks about growth mindset and you can only achieve outcomes and goals and aspirations if you have a growth mindset. I completely disagree. I truly believe that everyone has both a growth mindset and a fixed mindset and they use both interchangeably every single day.

I don’t believe it’s ever good to put people in boxes. I don't believe that's wise. We all react and relate to situations as they arise. And obviously when you're learning, the best part of learning is doing. And then I believe the second best part of learning is taking on feedback. So another way to look at this is to say - hey I want to try this, give me some feedback, tell me how I'm going. And with that growth mindset, you go, ‘Oh wow! There’s possibility here. I can improve. There's an opportunity.” Whereas perhaps with a fixed mindset, it's like, ‘Oh, no you're talking rubbish. I know what I'm doing.’ So I think the balance of the two is what creates the better person and leader.

How can leadership development programmes help with mindset?

In terms of leadership development, we have people coming through our programmes every single day that have been leaders for many, many years. But they’ve possibly never actually been developed or not been shown the best way or another way, or the preferred way for X company. These programmes are a nice opportunity for you to gauge yourself against others and realise that maybe when you thought you were at the top, you were actually in the middle, and how you feel about that result is your mindset. So if you look at it and you judge it and go, they're all silly or that's not true, then perhaps you’re a bit more fixed in your mindset. But if you look at it and you think, I didn't realise I could do that. Or I didn't realise that it was part of my brain and wow, I think I can do that, and I want to. Then that’s more of a growth mindset.

It's around what value do I get as an individual? And then how does it actually contribute to the wider team?


What would be an ideal mindset for someone participating on a leadership programme?

The first question to ask is “Why are they doing it?” Do they want to be a leader and why? So what is their aspirational goal that they're trying to achieve personally or at work? Doesn't really matter. We all have goals. It doesn't matter where they are, but we tend to structure our lives around how we want to achieve those goals. So it's making that connection of why this learning has been offered to me. Does it sit well with me? Does it fit me? Does it help me on my path to go forward?

That's the question that people need to ask themselves. Is this programme or course going to help me go forward or is it going to help me get closer to that goal I want to achieve? It's the connection piece, and it's the realisation of the opportunity that's possibly being offered to you.

So mindset is more of an attitudinal thing?

It totally is, and I think back to the FISH philosophy and there were two aspects of that we really pulled out. It was about making their day. Making sure they have fun and they leave with one thing to work on.  The other was around choosing your attitude, coming back to what attitude have you chosen today? So if you couldn't get out of this training, how are you going to make the most of it? And I guess that's just how I'm wired. So it's very easy for me to say that, but you need to invite a person to actually explore that journey on their own to get to that resolution themselves. It's wrong for me to say that I find this easy, ‘cos trust me, I can have a really strong, fixed mindset on some things.

It’s not always a bad thing, but sometimes it needs to be tempered and you go, actually, I'm just forcing my views on others here. What am I really doing? What’s my real agenda? And it's the, so what, so what, so what, and if you keep asking yourself that, you get to the kernel of the issue and you start to open your mind and your own mindset starts to open up.

I believe you can never walk away from a situation having not learned something.


What do we do deliberately to explore or challenge people’s mindsets in our programmes?

One of the main things that we get across is the concept of the growth mindset and then the concept of the fixed mindset and to shift their thinking from being one or the other. Then we explore that there are many mindsets and that it's all situational.

So it brings quite a few concepts into one. And then it maps back to,what's their identity; what's their identity as an individual, or if they're a leader, what's their identity as a leader? And then how do they turn up? And then how do they foster that same conversation or understanding in a situation or with a team member?

It's taking the lens away from your personal agenda to understanding that every situation is different and every person is different, and how do you get the best out of that? And that’s it, it sounds really easy, but it's really not.


What are some of the big changes or the big aha moments that you've seen in people learning about this mindset stuff?

It's a really good question to ask now, because if you think about the fact that we've spent so much time with our families in our homes, dealing with clients via a computer, not over a coffee in a cafe. Being quite agile in the way we work, the whole nine to five thing, for me, has gone out the window. I've seen more collaboration, I've seen people have more patience and be kind here in New Zealand. People have had to shift their way of thinking and their way of doing, because they've been forced into it, but rather than resist, they've actually embraced it.

There's been a lot of people saying to me “there's no way I would have picked up virtual learning or there's no way I would have been doing meetings over the computer if it wasn’t for this situation. But I’d quite like to keep doing that going forward because I think it works better.”

The mind shifts that I've seen in people in the last eight weeks have been pretty massive.

What's really interesting is what's going to happen in the next few weeks, few months, few years; that shift to the virtual workforce. It is probably going to happen because of this situation we’ve been thrown in, because the fear that people had is no longer there. They’ve mastered it, they've had to have a growth mindset, whether they liked it or not. They’ve adopted this new technology which was forced upon them, but now they want to do it as of choice.

So that's a huge way of looking at mindset through the lens of COVID-19.

When someone's forced into something, the sooner you open your mindset and you adapt, the better you will feel, the better you will sleep; it's all better. I'm assuming that you're going into a situation that isn't life threatening or awful, but the more you resist something, the harder it is for you.

If coming to one of our Mindset to lead programmes actually helps you to handle those situations that have given you great discomfort in the past, whatever that might be, but it helps you reframe and relook at them in a different way, isn’t that a good thing?


The power of your mind is what makes or breaks your day, your week, your year, your life.


So what are people resisting in this leadership mindset concept, and why is that?

The thing that I've observed the most is the number of leaders that have ended up in leadership roles by accident, not by design. For example, you've got a fantastic performer in a team. And you think – I’m going to promote them. But did we ask them if that’s what they wanted –  do they even like people? Do they want to help others? Do they want to develop themselves? Usually not. Usually they want to come into work and do what they do really well and go home.

So when I say leaders have ended up in these positions, they've got on the ladder and the money has gone up and the money has gone up. But so too has the responsibility and generally speaking this is the responsibility of others. So we need to throw other people in the mix and if you don't really have the empathy or the interest in them, you’re doing yourself a disservice, not to mention them.


Unless your mindset changes to, oh actually, I'm not just here to have more money. I'm here to develop these humans and make them the best that they can be. And until you get that as a leader, you’re never going to make it.


People don't understand the power of their mind. You're in control of your conscious and your subconscious mind, (subconscious, not so much) but we all know that building habits and changing habits is really hard, and that's your mind resisting. So if you can better understand how your brain works, how it functions, how it serves you well, in those times where it doesn't serve you well, then you can actually start to do something about it.

So there's a degree of metacognition, like, thinking about your own thinking, and is it something that we challenge people with? Like, why would they be thinking that way? Or what stories are they telling themselves around that event? Or what meaning are they applying to that?

Anyone who's listened to Carol Dweck will know she's got some fantastic Ted Talks and does a lot with youth. She has this whole concept of reframing, no, to ‘not yet’. Suddenly it opens the world to the possibilities. So, no doesn't mean I can’t, it just means I can't yet.

And if you want to change, it's not going to be easy. Sometimes things take longer and are harder, but if you're determined enough and you want it enough, you will go down the exploratory track and figure it out. And realise that every other human around you is doing the same thing.


How do you help people shift out of that resistance to change?

I can specifically answer that with Mindset to lead. What I've noticed for people that have actually gone through the course, probably the more technical type of people, they resist because they can’t see the value or purpose in it. Then suddenly the penny drops and all the questions flood in when they have their 30-minute check-in with their facilitator one on one. So there is that thing where they don't want to be seen to be silly in front of a crowd. And that depends on how comfortable they are with their cohort and how comfortable they are as a person to say ‘I fell on my sword. I didn't get it right’. But for many, the penny drops when they've gone away and reflected.


And I think that's another key aspect of mindset. Cause how often do we say in leadership courses that leaders don't reflect, they don't take time to plan, they just do?  Well, that's not the role of a leader. That reflection in thinking back to what I just did and how it went and how could it be better? That reflection piece is key and that all comes back to mindset. How am I looking at this? Am I going to capitalise on this and say, how can I fix it? Or am I going to go onto a huge slump and go, no one likes me. This was really awful. And I'm actually really no good. So I won't try that again.

What sort of questions or discussion happens during the check-in with the facilitator?

The few that I have personally been involved with, it's been around questioning like ‘so when this happened and we did this. What does that mean? When you were talking about growth mindset and the fact that, I needed to think about a different way of doing things. I went back to work and I sat with my team and I actually asked them for feedback, something I've never done before’.

And then they ask – was that the right thing to do? And it's really interesting if someone asks you, was that the right thing to do, because you will reflect it back to them and ask, how did it feel. I think someone gave me some feedback that I didn't feel comfortable with. I see. So do you explore their feedback? Many respond with ‘I've thought about this and my reaction when I was in the training room, was no that doesn't happen. And then I thought about it some more and I actually tried it with my team and I asked them for feedback and I got stuff that really surprised me and I've never asked them before, and suddenly I'm sitting here having debates with myself around, should I have done that? Was that good? What am I going to do with that feedback?

And then suddenly you start to think, well was that a good thing? So those check-ins are different for every single person.

To understand mindset, you need to reflect on, what is my belief system? And how does it serve me? And do I want it to serve me better?


Is what's really been challenged is people's egos?

It's the start of the aha moment. It's like if enough people are telling me this, or if I'm hearing this or this thing keeps happening to me, that's when you start to need to look inward and ask why could that be? Why would that be?

And if you're brave enough to start asking for some feedback, That's where your development trajectory can change or where your enjoyment of the situation can improve. So whatever the thing is for you, that makes you feel better is the thing that you'll focus on. Right? So it's that broadening of horizons.

At the end of the day you’re not just there for you. There is a world out there where you are serving people every day in some way, shape or form, whether it be your colleagues or your friends. Are you turning up to be the best that you can be? Your mindset has got a lot to do with it, because if you've had a shitty sleep and a bad morning, you still need to park that, and front up because it’s not the other person’s fault.

Why do you recommend addressing mindset early on in your leadership development?

If you're going to start any form of leadership development programme, you really want to start with your mindset. Until you can understand what it is you're trying to achieve as an individual, if you can’t sort the mindset piece, nothing else will go in your head. So there's almost no point for a leader being in any programme or developmental experience, if they don't have a mindset that is open. Open to exploring things, open to be challenged, open for the ego to be challenged and the belief that they're there to serve other people, not themselves.

If you want to be a better leader, then you need to be thinking a lot more than you think now, you need to reflect a lot more than you reflect now. You need to experience and continuously learn. You need to check-in regularly, and that's all just part of mindset.

Sometimes people need to fundamentally shift their mindset. Until you can really understand yourself, you don't have any hope in helping to understand and develop others. If you are a leader of a team or of other people, then that's a fundamental part of your role.

If you don't start with you, there's no hope.




Mindset to lead 

This programme challenges leaders’ current mindset and attitudes. It gets them thinking about their every day in a different way, opening them to new experiences and learning opportunities.

See more about our programmes


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