Do You Have a Leadership Mindset?

Take a look at the 2016 Forbes World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. You’ll certainly see some familiar names and faces, particularly in the top 10. But when it comes to money, media presence, spheres of influence, and impact (the four metrics used to select them), what is it that all of these female leaders have in common?

Despite their wide diversity of cultural backgrounds, industries, and styles, the uniting factor that has catapulted these 100 women into the top echelon globally comes down to having a leadership mindset. Cultivating this type of mindset in an organization often comes down to leadership agility and how skillfully one can navigate change, failure, and crisis. It’s the hard times that call out one’s leadership /brand and determine how one is viewed, not how well one leads during relatively stable conditions. All of the women on the Forbes list have certainly experienced setbacks and deal with change every day—but importantly, they’ve done so while maintaining a growth mindset, which is an important attribute for any leader or executive.

Stanford professor Carol Dweck developed the concept of “growth mindset” versus “fixed mindset” based on her research on individuals and organizations. A growth mindset refers to people who believe that they have the power to develop their own talents, using strategies like working hard or incorporating input from others. They view failure as Dweck found that those with a growth mindset tend to achieve more than people who operate from a “fixed mindset,” thinking their talents are a result of innate gifts rather than their own efforts.

Growth mindsets can be embraced by entire organizations, as well as by individuals. Dweck found that when whole companies take this approach, employees feel both more empowered and more committed than companies that act from a fixed mindset. With this in mind, you can see the effect that individual leaders can have on influencing their organizational culture in times of turmoil.

General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra—number 5 on the Forbes’ list this year, and number 1 in Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women ranking for the past two years—comes to mind. I spoke with CNBC in 2014 about how Barra’s leadership mindset helped her deal with the crisis of coming into the CEO role during the company’s ignition-switch recall. I called out three things that Barra successfully did that executives and leaders should do in times of crisis:

  • Name it and take responsibility. Even though she wasn’t on board as CEO when the problems were created, Barra really walked the talk to take responsibility for the company’s mistakes, ensuring that they would take care of the people who had damages and losses.
  • Sympathize and empathize. Barra didn’t just apologize for the actions of the company (though she did so publicly and profusely) she also visited families of those who had lost lives due to GM’s ignition-switch failures and set up a compensation fund for those who had been impacted.
  • Decisively take the right action. Last year, Fortune reported on how Barra was using the recall scandal to mold GM’s culture for the better, and she continues to do so today. “I want to put this painful experience permanently in our collective memories,” Barra announced at a town hall meeting of GM employees.

Her repeated appearances in the top 5 of the prestigious Forbes and Fortune rankings is testament to Barra’s ability to tap into a leadership mindset. She remains near the top of the list because she is exhibiting a true growth mindset—rather than falling into insecurity and defensiveness in the face of challenges and criticism, she continues to lead with decisiveness and responsibility. We can see evidence of this in this month’s GM recall over airbag software, in the wake of which Barra announced the launch of a new program to recognize employees who alert the company to potential safety problems that they’ve identified.

Based on the importance of learning how to leverage a growth-oriented leadership mindset we’ve added this topic to SHAMBAUGH’s Women in Leadership and Learning Program (WILL). To find out more about how this nationally recognized program can help reinvigorate your leadership team and take your female leaders to the next level, please reach out to me.

Rebecca is an internationally acclaimed and sought-after keynote speaker, leadership expert and contributing editor for Harvard Business Review and the Huffington Post.

Interested in having Rebecca speak at your company or in SHAMBAUGH’s Fireside Chats contact us at

To learn more about SHAMBAUGH’s integrated leadership solutions, visit:

Rebecca is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky FloorLeadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton, and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results.


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