The Mind of the Leader: How to Lead Yourself, Your People, and Your Organisation for Extraordinary Results

This article summarises a Senior Leader Roundtable that took place on 30 August 2018, co-hosted by HSBC, The Potential Project and Community Business

The session featured a discussion with Rasmus Hougaard, Founder & Managing Director - The Potential Project and co-author ‘The Mind of the Leader’. Moderating the discussion was Kyoko Altman, Director, Institutional & Wealth Sales, APAC & Head of Sustainable Investments, Global Banking & Markets Group - HSBC, with introductory remarks from Peter Hebert, COO Asia-Pacific, Retail Banking & Wealth Management - HSBC and Fern Ngai, CEO - Community Business.

The discussion was inspired by themes explored in the book ‘The Mind of the Leader’ by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, which focused on modern leadership traits and the value of compassion, selflessness and mindfulness in engaging teams and driving sustainable results. Following two years of research, the book identifies and addresses a global leadership crisis - organizations and leaders are not meeting employees’ basic human needs of finding meaning, purpose, connection, and genuine happiness in their work.



The Leadership Crisis

The session began with an overview of the leadership crisis* that many companies face today:

  • Lack of engagement: only 13% of the global workforce is actively engaged; 24% are actively disengaged
  • Lack of happiness: 65% of employees would forego a pay raise to see their leader fired
  • Lack of leadership: 77% of leaders think they engage and motivate their people. 82% of their people disagree

*Forbes: Majority of Americans Would Rather Fire their Boss Than Get A Raise & Gallup 2016 Survey & McKinsey & Co. & ATD

As well as an insight into how leaders can combat these issues: leadership starts with the mind, understanding yourself (your biases and values) in order to lead and understand your people in order to effectively lead and understand your organisation.


The book is grounded in the concept of neuro-plasticity – our brain is changing according to how we use it. Therefore, training certain qualities in the brain (i.e. through mindfulness) can strengthen the brain.  Leaders can change the way their minds work based on these findings.


Full-Stomach or Empty-Stomach Leadership

Today’s staffing and talent dilemma can be summed up by the concept of full-stomach or empty-stomach leadership. Leadership styles in the past have been tailored to people with ‘empty stomachs’ – they needed the job to survive therefore they would endure a bad boss or difficult conditions. There has been a paradigm shift and people today have adopted the ‘full-stomach’ mindset. They will not endure hard working conditions – work has become more flexible and with that blanket loyalty to one company has reduced. Leaders must adapt and become full-stomach leaders, by creating conditions where people are happy and fulfilled at work.


The Three Qualities that Leaders should Adopt

Mindfulness: Focused vs Distracted | Aware vs Autopilot

Mindfulness is the ability to focus and be present with people. Today’s society is full of information overload and distractions. Being a mindful and present leader is becoming more challenging with these distractions but therefore more important. Mindful leaders do not multi-task. Efficiency is lost in the ‘switch-time’ between tasks. The more we multi-task, the more we shrink the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. This applies to both men and women. Mindfulness is not about slowing down but gaining clarity and focus.

Selflessness: Selfless vs Ego-centered | Confident vs Diffident

Selflessness is about removing the ego from your leadership style. The ego grows as we climb the leadership ladder, so it is vital that leaders stay in tune with their surroundings and remain self-aware. Too often, C-Suite executives find themselves in a ‘leadership bubble’ – out of tune and removed from the rest of their team.  Selflessness and being self-aware helps to overcome this. It is important to ensure that selflessness is combined with the confidence to ensure that you remain an effective leader.

Studies have found that the more people use the pronouns ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’, and ‘mine’, the higher the correlation to coronary heart disease and mortality.  When we use more inclusive pronouns like ‘we’, or second-person pronouns like ‘you’ or ‘your’, it has a positive impact on our health. 

Compassionate: Kind vs Indifferent | Wise vs Ignorant

Compassion is about bringing positive change to your team and should not be mistaken with being soft. It is about providing your team with what they need and not what they want. Compassion can be seen as softness if introduced in the wrong way. A mindful leader must have the attention of benefiting others, not pleasing others.

Compassion should not be confused with empathy. Empathy is a short-term intervention. It is intertwined with emotions and immediate circumstances. As humans, we empathise with people we look like or identify with, so raw empathy can also lead to a lack of diversity. Compassion, on the other hand, is a long-term solution. It combines empathy with rationality and removes emotion from strategising to find a solution to the problem.


Re-thinking Top-Down, Power-Based Management Styles

The traditional style of leadership has not been working for a long time. Mimicking military leadership, it served ‘empty stomach’ employees very well. Furthermore, today’s environment is not responding to this rigid style of management. People are looking for more from their careers - they want to be fulfilled now that basic needs have been covered. Many companies interviewed and worked with for the book recognise this and are putting effort into changing their leadership styles to accommodate. They know they cannot compete if they do not adapt.


About the Author: Emily Moss, Senior Manager, Marketing & Communications, Community Business