Does Leadership Start in the Mind?

77% of leaders think they do a good job of engaging their people yet conversely, 88% of employees say their leaders don’t engage enough.  Once you have digested that piece of information how about the fact that 35% of employees would forgo a pay rise to see their boss fired!

When we stop and think about what it means to be a leader, we frequently focus on what is going on around us. In other words, the external factors that we can either develop or control in order to facilitate a better outcome. But to lead effectively we have to also understand how to lead ourselves before we can understand and lead others. This is an interesting new people-centric leadership approach by the authors of The Mind of a Leader, a new book which takes a fresh look at conventional ideas of leadership.

MSC Leadership Model

Rasmus Hougard and Jaqueline Carter, authors of The Mind of a Leader, argue that there are three mental qualities that stand out as being fundamental for today’s leaders: Mindfulness, Selflessness and Compassion. They argue that all three work together; becoming greater than the sum of their parts.

Core Mental Qualities of Leaders


Mindfulness is about managing your internal thought processes and responding to circumstances rather than reacting to them. Mindfulness (a technique now used quite widely), is about ‘quieting the mind’ to remove external distractions that detract from the important things we need to focus on. Once we have mastered mindfulness, they argue, we are more effective and mentally agile as our perception of ‘self’ starts to change. Out of this emerges a stronger sense of selfless confidence, which in turn will help you develop the second quality of MSC Leadership: selflessness.

Selflessness - while this might seem a rather incongruous term to use for a leader, who often display very ‘driven’ characteristics, the authors describe selflessness as the ‘wisdom of getting out of your own way’ and that of your organisation; to allow the natural flow of an organisation to fully blossom. It is more of a mindset change to being of service to those around you, rather than in control of it. They argue that selflessness when combined with self-confidence, makes you an enabler. You have the confidence to step up if needed but are not driven by self-interest; the well-being of your people and organisation is paramount!

Studies have shown that as leaders start to feel more powerful then there is a decline in the benevolent qualities they exhibit. A study at the University of California, Berkley, showed that leaders were three times more likely to interrupt co-workers, multitask during meetings, raise their voices and say insulting things, than lower-level employees.

The sense that being a leader brings you a certain amount of entitlement can be a narrow bridge to traverse and the authors urge leaders to keep themselves in perspective and argue that ‘mindfulness’ plays a big part in encouraging us to do just this. They argue that by being selfless we naturally start attending to other people and compassion becomes a natural offshoot of selflessness.

Compassion - this is about the critical and often overlooked ability to understand others’ perspectives and then use this as a catalyst for supportive action. Combined with this compassion it is imperative to instil wisdom and professionalism into the workforce to enable them to make tough decisions. Once compassion has been combined with wisdom, they argue choices made within an organisation are ‘thoughtful and holistic’

This leadership model is a more collaborative form of engagement, however, it starts with you, the leader and gradually infuses the entire organisation. Like many innovative concepts in business, it requires you to take a hard look at your business, particularly at how you and other internal leaders interact with your peers, other employees and all parts of the business.

Fiona McKay