How to Lead: Using Your Mindset to Become a Better Leader

In Leadership by Jamie Turner2 Comments

I would like you to draw the letter Q on your forehead.

Take your dominant hand. If you’re a lefty, that would be your left hand if you’re a righty, that would be your right hand. Now draw the letter Q on your forehead.

Go ahead. It sounds silly, but I’m going somewhere with this.

Once you’ve drawn the letter Q on your forehead, I’d like you to answer whether the tale of the Q came down over your left eye or over your right eye. The tail is the little part of the Q that comes off the back.

Dr. Richard Wiseman has done research on the outcomes of this exercise. If the tail came down over your left eye, it means that you are drawing the letter Q so that someone else will be able to read it. If it comes down over your right eye, it means you’re drawing the letter Q so that you can read it easily.

The research says that this can be an indicator of whether you’re self-focused or other-focused. There’s nothing right or wrong about self-focused or other-focused. It’s just an insight into who you are.  

If you drew the letter Q so that you can read it, you tend to come across as being the same person in different situations. This might be because your behavior is guided more by your own values than the needs of others. These people pride themselves on being straight with people. They also expect others to be honest with them. And because of this, “they are not especially good at lying, but are better at detecting lies in others,” according to Dr. Wiseman.

If you drew the letter Q so that others can read it, you tend to be more concerned about how other people see you. You’re probably happier being the focus of other people’s attention and can easily adapt your behavior to suit the situation in which you find yourself. You are probably very skilled at influencing the way other people see you. Because of this, you might be better at lying, but not very good at detecting lies.

Of course, a simple test like this is not going to be definitive – there are variables in the outcomes of any experiment like this. But it raises a larger point that is the foundation for the Unspoken Rules of Leadership – self-awareness is the starting point for anyone who wants to improve their leadership skills.

In other words, the more you understand yourself and how others perceive you, the easier it will be for you to train yourself to be a good leader.

Opening Your Mind up to New Ideas.

In addition to improving your self-awareness, you’ll also want to open your mind up to new ideas and approaches to leadership.

As we age, we find ourselves solving problems the same way over and over again. The good news is that solving a new problem with an old solution is easier. The bad news is that you’ll eventually start bumping into the law of diminishing returns.

Since you’re solving new problems with old solutions, they’re not as effective. The result is that you become less productive, less effective, and more frustrated.

The solution to this is to open your mind up to new approaches to solving problems. So, as we go through our journey together, you’ll find that I’ll include exercises designed to help you train your brain to solve problems in new and interesting ways.

The exercises are designed to help you think outside the box and improve your neuroplasticity.

By thinking outside the box, you’ll be more open to new ideas and new approaches, which can help you as you evolve as a leader.

Neuroplasticity is the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization. It was once thought to manifest only during childhood but research has shown that many aspects of the brain can be altered even through adulthood.

With all that in mind, take a look at the image of the glasses below. There are three on the left that are half full and three on the right that are empty.

Your job is to change the pattern from what it is above to the pattern belowt. But you’re only allowed to touch one glass.

In other words, by only touching one glass, you’re supposed to change the pattern from what it is on the top to what it is in the bottom.

Give it a shot. Spend about 30 to 60 seconds seeing if you could come up with a solution. If you come up with a solution, good for you. If you don’t come up with a solution, then you and I have a lot in common: I was not able to figure this one out until it was explained to me.

If you’re like a lot of people, you tried to solve the problem by moving the glasses around.

In other words, you tried taking the half full glass on the left and moving it around to the right. But that’s not the solution.

If you’re thinking outside the box and trying to improve your mental flexibility, then you might have explored other solutions. Ultimately, you might have come up with the answer, which is to pick up the half full glass on the left and pour it into the second glass from the right and then put the now empty class back on the left-hand side.

Again, if you didn’t come up with the solution, then we both have that in common. But if you did come up with the solution, congratulations. It shows that you already have a flexible mind and will be open to some of the mindfulness exercises we’ll do as we move through our journey together.

We have a lot more to talk about in this in-depth blog post. Before we dive in to some of the other content, I’d like to share a few quick action steps anyone can put to work in the event they’re interested in improving their leadership skills.

Action Steps for Aspiring Leaders. What are some of the action steps you can take in order to become a better leader? Check out the tips below to help you get started.

  1. Communicate effectively: Make sure to clearly convey expectations, goals, and feedback to your team.
  2. Lead by example: Set a good example for your team by being punctual, respectful, and professional.
  3. Empower your team: Give your team the autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of their work.
  4. Build trust: Foster a culture of trust and transparency by being honest, reliable, and supportive.
  5. Encourage collaboration: Create opportunities for team members to work together and share ideas.
  6. Develop your team: Invest in your team’s growth and development by providing training and mentoring opportunities.
  7. Be adaptable: Be open to new ideas and willing to make changes when necessary.
  8. Show appreciation: Recognize and reward your team for their hard work and contributions.
  9. Be decisive: Make timely and well-informed decisions to keep projects and goals on track.
  10. Continuously improve: Reflect on your leadership style and make adjustments as needed to improve your effectiveness as a leader.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Power of the Mind

There’s a terrific story in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography titled Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story.  

Schwarzenegger, as you probably know, grew up in Austria. When he was young, he entered a weightlifting competition and came in third. Undaunted, he applied his excellent cognitive abilities to his third-place finish.

To Schwarzenegger, it was a simple math problem. If he came in third place by working out 3 times a week and being able to bench press 250 lbs., what would happen if he worked out 4 times a week and was able to bench press 275 lbs.? Or, if he was able to work out 6 times a week and bench press 300 lbs.?

By applying his mind to the math problem, he was able to work out a solution that resulted in him coming in first place in the local competition. Over the years, using his mind to solve his body building problem resulted in him winning five Mr. Universe titles and seven Mr. Olympia titles, making him, arguably, the greatest body builder of all time.

But that’s not the only story about Schwarzenegger I’d like to share with you. There’s another one that highlights the power of the mind.

(Please note that this story isn’t one that I would normally share in a blog post, but it took place in the 1970s and, while it doesn’t reflect today’s Me Too sensibilities, it does illustrate the mind’s power over the human body.)

As Schwarzenegger writes in his autobiography, “One afternoon years later, [my training partner and I] were taking turns doing squats and Gold’s Gym in California. I did six reps with 500 pounds. Even though Franco is stronger than me in the squat, he did only four reps and put the bar back. I’m so tired he said.

Just then I saw a couple of women coming from the beach and went over to say hello. Then I came back and told Franco, ‘They don’t believe you can squat 500 pounds.’

I knew how much he loves showing off, especially when there are women around. So he said ‘I’m gonna show them, watch this.’ He picked up the 500 pounds and did 10 reps. He made it look easy.

This was the same body that had been too tired 10 minutes before. So what changed? The mind.[1]

Franco’s body hadn’t changed from the first set of reps to the second set of reps. The only thing that had changed was his mind.

That story illustrates something that happened in my own life when I was 16 years old. It was the spark that helped me understand the power of the mind which eventually became my life’s calling.

I was playing a video game in an arcade in a mall. I had three quarters. I put the first quarter in and scored 15,000 points on the game I was playing. I thought that was pretty good. I put my second quarter in and scored 17,000 points. So, in my mind, I thought with my third quarter I might be able to hit 20,000 points.

I was just getting ready to put in the third quarter and when I felt a tap on my shoulder. A person who was younger than I was asked if she could step in and play the video game. I said, “Sure.”

She stepped up and played the game.

What was her score?

She scored 70,000 points. I didn’t even know 70,000 points was possible. But suddenly my mind expanded and realized that the upper range wasn’t 20,000 points, it was 70,000 points, at least.

After she completed her 70,000 point game, I stepped back in and put my last quarter in.

What did I score?

20,000 points? 25,000 points?

No, I scored 55,000 points.

A few minutes earlier, I would’ve been happy with 20,000 points. But my mind expanded because it understood that 70,000 points (or more) was possible. So, I jumped from 17,000 points to 50,000 points and the only thing that had changed was my mindset.

Both the stories, the Schwarzenegger story and my story, illustrate an important point. The number one thing that holds us back from accomplishing our goals is a self-limiting mindset. We don’t believe we are worthy of bigger accomplishments. Or we don’t believe we can physically achieve them. Or something else. But both these stories illustrate the fact that changing the outcomes in your life is sometimes as simple as changing your mindset.

System 1 Thinking vs. System 2 Thinking

As we continue our journey towards self-awareness, let’s explore the concept of System 1 thinking and System 2 thinking.

System 1 thinking happens at the base of our skull. It’s sometimes called The Reptilian brain. And it deals with the world around it in an instinctive manner. Sometimes these instincts are called the four F’s which are Food, Fight, Flight, and Procreation.

Let’s provide an example. Let’s say you’re in a heated argument with someone. During the argument, your Reptilian brain kicks in and starts thinking about the situation as one of fight or flight. That’s System 1 thinking, and we’ve all experienced it at one time or another.

If we acted on our impulses all the time, our lives would be chaos. Every time you had an argument with someone, it would end up in a physical altercation or you running away. Not great options.

That’s where our System 2 thinking kicks in. When you’re having a heated argument with someone and you feel like fighting or running away, your System 2 thinking (which happens in the Prefrontal Cortex located in your forehead) cranks up and says, “Hold on here. You don’t have to fight this person or run away from them. If you control your emotions, you might be able to bring the temperature down and come to an amicable solution.”

Studies show that people who can control their impulses with System 2 thinking get more raises, more promotions, and generally have happier, more stable careers.[2]

Which leads us to another important concept that can help you as you learn how to do a better job leading yourself and leading others. Here goes:

Successful Leaders Work on Their Mindset First and Their Skillset Second.

Our instincts in the workplace normally tell us to work on our skillset first – things like new software, new phone systems, new computers, new management techniques, new everything. Our thinking is that if we can master Excel or Google Documents or this year’s latest management technique that we’ll have a successful career.

The truth is that successful leaders work on their mindset first and their skillset second. They work on how they think first.  

As Astrophysicist Neal deGrasse Tyson says, “The most important moments in your life are dictated not by what you know, but by how you think.”

If you can change the way you think about the world around you, then you can change the way the world responds to you. By changing your thoughts, you can change your actions. And better thoughts along with better actions often (but not always) lead to better outcomes in your life.

Changing your thoughts can come in two forms. The first is by changing what you input into your brain. We live in a world that floods us with information, both accurate and inaccurate. The problem is that we sometimes allow ourselves to be taken down the rabbit hole with junk information. It’s our responsibility to confirm that the data presented is accurate and reliable. If you put trash in your brain, then you’re going to get trash that comes out, so it’s a good idea to do your homework and have a dose of skepticism the next time your crazy uncle claims that cigarettes are actually healthy for you.

The second way to change your thoughts is to understand an important concept that Viktor Frankl taught us. Frankl was a Holocaust survivor who wrote one of the most important books of the 20th century, Man’s Search for Meaning.

In the book, Frankl points out that we live in a world of stimuli and responses. So, if someone says something annoying to us (the stimulus) then we sometimes react negatively (the response). He goes on to say that there is a space between stimulus and response that can dictate the outcome of our lives.

When we have a stimulus in our lives and decide to pause rather than react, it gives us a moment for the System 2 thinking to kick in and provide a response that is more reasoned, thoughtful, and appropriate.

It’s a simple idea with profound implications. Think back to the times in your life when you responded to something impulsively. I could have been while you were in school. During an argument. Or in the office. No matter what, we all have times in our lives where we wish we hadn’t responded to something impulsively. If we had just used the space between stimulus and response to consider a better response than what our impulses would have us do, our lives could change significantly over time.

Understanding how to control our thoughts and our actions is an important part of being an effective leader. But what about when we’re not aware of our thoughts and actions? What about when our lives are on auto-pilot and we keep having the same experiences (or troubles) over and over again?

Not long ago, my brother Craig was having a conversation with a mutual friend of ours. The friend had had 24 different jobs over 25 years. When Craig asked him what the issue was, our friend said, “Well, my last boss was a jerk, so that didn’t last.” He asked about the job prior to that. Our friend said, “That company was totally messed up, so I didn’t stay long.” And the one before that? “My boss didn’t like me, so that didn’t last either.”

Craig asked our friend if he saw a pattern in his job experiences. “Well,” he said, “I guess I do – I’m the common denominator.”


Later, when I asked Craig about the conversation with our friend, he said, “His first line of code was broken, so we had to fix it.”

First line of code? What does that mean?

Craig went on to say that we’re all like a software program. If you have a software program with half a million lines of code in it that are perfect, that’s great. But if the very first line of code is broken, then no matter how brilliant the other lines of code are, they’ll never work.

Our friend had a first line of code that said, “The problems I’ve had in my career are all someone else’s fault.”

He had that first line of code, of course, up until the time Craig had the conversation with him. When the light bulb went off and he realized that he was the common denominator in all his job losses, he took the first step towards fixing his first line of code. By recognizing that his first line of code was broken, our friend was able to explore ways to fix it. Which, in the long run, led to more stable jobs and a more fulfilling career.

All this leads to the question – what is your first line of code? What are you telling yourself that is holding you back? Is it, “I’m not good enough?” Or, “I can’t trust people?” Or, “People don’t like me?”

Whatever your first line of code is, it might be holding you back. It might be preventing you from achieving everything you want out of life. So, ask yourself – what is my first line of code? What am I telling myself that is preventing me from accomplishing everything I know I’m capable of? What are the messages I’m telling myself that are preventing me from getting to the next level?

By addressing your first line of code issue, you’ll put yourself in a position to accomplish everything you know you’re capable of accomplishing.

The challenge is that it’s not always easy to re-write your first line of code. For example, you might have identified your first line of code as “I’m an imposter and people are going to find me out someday.” (That’s a pretty common first line of code.)

The question then becomes, “How do I re-write that first line of code and make it stick?”

The good news is that there is an answer. And it uses an approach called the Emotional Freedom Technique[3]. EFT has its roots in the 1970s when several doctors began stimulating acupressure points to help their patients deal with stress, anxiety, and depression.

Using EFT to re-write your first line of code is relatively simple. Here are several steps to help you get started:

  1. Relax: Find a comfortable setting and take a few deep breaths.
  2. Awareness: Think about the first line of code that you would like to re-write.
  3. Tapping: Take your fingers and tap on your collar bone. Tap about 3 or 4 times a second with some vigor, but not so much that it hurts.
  4. Shifting: As your tapping and thinking about the first line of code you would like to re-write, say something out loud that is distinctive, visual, and vibrant. I say the word “Blueberries” because they have a strong color, taste, smell, and texture. You can say anything you want – Green Gorilla, Submarine, Fire, Pluto – it doesn’t matter.
  5. Pattern Interruption: Your goal is to break the pattern of thoughts you usually have around the subject. And tapping on your collar bone while saying something out loud helps you break the pattern.
  6. Replace: Now, replace your first line of code with your new code. Say it out loud. It might be, “People like me” or “My parents are proud of me even though they don’t say it out loud,” or “I’m strong, healthy, and kind.”
  7. Rinse and Repeat: It will take time for this technique to kick into high gear. You won’t be able to re-write the code right away. But over time, you’ll be able to make it happen.


Okay, we’ve covered a lot of topics here. Let’s do a quick recap so we can make them sink in.

  • Self-Awareness: The starting point for any person who wants to be a better leader is self-awareness.
  • Neuroplasticity: Keeping your mind open to new ideas and new approaches to solving problems will generate better results than being close-minded.
  • Power of the Mind: Arnold Schwarzenegger used the power of his mind to accomplish great things in his life. You can do the same thing, too.
  • System 1 vs. System 2: Successful leaders use System 2 thinking, which happens in the pre-frontal cortex, to control the impulses generated by System 1 thinking.
  • Mindset First: By working on your mindset first and your skillset second, you’ll lay the groundwork for long-term success.

That’s all for now. I’ll see you again soon!

About the Author: Jamie Turner is an internationally recognized author, professor, consultant, and speaker who has helped employees at The Coca-Cola Company, Holiday Inn, Microsoft, Verizon and others do a better job leading, managing, and mentoring others. To have him speak at your event or organization, email him at: Jamie@JamieTurner.Live

[1] Pg. 68, “Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story,” by Arnold Schwarzenegger




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