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Mastering the Art of Leadership Abundance

We all know the power of envy, the green-eyed monster. Although we might not want to admit it, many of us have felt the occasional pang of jealousy when a friend or colleague has achieved something aspirational. We live in a competitive and, at times, cut-throat world. So we can easily become preoccupied with thoughts about being the best, gaining the biggest advantage, or getting the most views, clicks, or likes. It’s understandable: There are real economic drivers behind high performance and winning in the marketplace. But this comparison-based competitiveness can be dangerous and destructive on both an organizational and personal level.

Nobody enjoys working with a boss who minimizes achievements, shuts others down, or tries to one-up them. And yet, in attempts to establish authority or showcase their expertise, leaders can engage in these behaviors. While this might make the leader feel big, it makes everyone else feel small. And for an organization to succeed at the highest levels, everyone needs to feel big. The whole team must feel empowered. Each contributor should feel important.

How can you become more mindful of this? By mastering the art of leadership abundance, you can create a team where jealousy and competition fall to the side while solutions and shared success become the primary goal.

What Is the Abundance Mindset?

Dr. Stephen R. Covey taught that we can move through life with either a scarcity or abundance mindset. When we approach the world with a scarcity mindset, we view resources and outcomes as limited, meaning that when others succeed, there is less perceived room for our own success. A scarcity mindset feels threatened when others have new ideas, innovate, or receive praise and recognition. When we see others thriving, the lens of scarcity makes our achievements seem diminished.

On the other hand, when we operate with an abundance mindset, we view resources and outcomes as unlimited—and we perceive success as an infinite resource, available to all. Abundance helps us feel excited by others’ contributions and happy to see our peers celebrated. This collaborative mindset leads to creative, engaged, and caring teams.

Why do we struggle with this? A lack of abundant thinking often stems from insecurity. Too often, our sense of worth is influenced by external factors. It’s easy to feel calm and confident when we are praised. But it’s more challenging to stay connected to our worthiness when we are criticized and questioned—and it can be tempting to resort to posturing to prove our value. But the abundant mindset reminds us that our worth is inherent; we do not need to prove it through arrogance.

While we are all human and may have an emotional response to feedback, neither praise nor criticism should drive our self-perception. In the face of adversity, secure leaders do not succumb to the temptation to demand validation, boast about their achievements, or harp on their accolades. And they are eager to praise those around them; it’s easy for secure leaders to be genuinely happy for others because they are genuinely happy with themselves.

The path to developing an inner sense of strength that is not moved by the highs and lows of work-life is through an abundant mindset. When you know your own strength, celebrating others’ strengths becomes uncomplicated. This attitude results in better relationships as well as higher levels of trust, efficiency, and productivity.

Here are some questions to help you evaluate your current mindset:

  • Am I genuinely happy for the success of others? Why or why not?
  • What might stand in the way of me feeling happy for others?
  • Do I communicate my happiness when I see others succeed?
  • How can I develop my personal sense of worthiness?

You can lead from in front by modeling this mentality. A team will wither with a scarcity mindset, but it will thrive with an abundance mindset.

How to Switch Your Thinking from ‘Either/or’ to ‘Both/and’

From spelling bees to read-a-thons, we’re set up to compete from an early age. It’s little wonder that we develop a mindset of ‘either/or’ rather than of ‘both/and.’ This isn’t to say that all competition is bad—it can drive us to excel, to innovate, and to continuously improve. But too often, we are competing with the wrong people at the wrong time. While an ‘either/or’ approach makes sense during a basketball game, it doesn’t make sense in a brainstorming meeting. Frequently we sit down with our colleagues thinking “it’s either me or you” instead of thinking, “it’s me and you.”

In old western movies, you often hear the trope, “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us.” As silly as it might seem, people often approach work with this same mentality. There is a false idea that there isn’t enough room for more than one person to shine. However, both in westerns and in work, there is enough room for everyone. In fact, embracing this abundant notion leads to more success for all parties, also known as a “win-win.”

ConantLeadership Founder Doug Conant says it is wise to apply the principle of abundance widely; its power extends far beyond interpersonal relationships and applies to every facet of leadership. When goal-setting, problem-solving, or making decisions, it is a helpful practice to switch out the word “or” with “and.” This simple switch reframes your thinking.

When Doug became CEO of Campbell Soup Company, he saw that the choice to focus solely on creating value for shareholders while neglecting the imperative to care for employees had taken its toll. Employee engagement was low and the company was not performing well financially. He knew they needed a mindset switch—from choosing between shareholders or employees, to caring for all stakeholders, including shareholders and employees. As he and his team worked to do both, they came up with new ideas and initiatives that helped the company begin to thrive. Under Doug’s stewardship, employee engagement went from being among the worst in the Fortune 500 to being consistently among the best.

Maybe, like Doug, you’re facing a situation that feels ‘either/or’ right now. How might things be different if you replaced ‘or’ with ‘and’?

Thinking abundantly opens new doors and limitless possibilities. ‘And’ thinking allows for fresh creativity and helps remove the limiting beliefs we might not even realize are stifling us.

The Best Leaders Are Tough-Minded on Standards AND Tender-Hearted with People

The skill of thinking abundantly is not only crucial for realizing your self-worth and thinking creatively—it is also essential to managing people. Some might think that being an abundant-minded leader means lowering your expectations. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Doug Conant says, “the best leaders are both tough-minded on standards AND tender-hearted with people.

Imagine a salesperson with two different team leaders. The salesperson, while committed and hard-working, has fallen just shy of a sales goal. Both leaders offer the same feedback, yet the salesperson leaves one conversation feeling uplifted, and leaves the other conversation feeling dejected. The difference? The delivery. The first manager is kind, genuine, and eager to help the salesperson grow—being clear about what needs work, but offering hope and encouragement. The second manager is also clear on the expectations and standards—but offers no encouragement or caring and doesn’t express confidence in the salesperson. Both leaders are tough-minded on the standards: There are expectations that aren’t being met and need to be addressed. But only one leader is tender-hearted with the human being.

Which of the two team leaders do you think the salesperson responds to best? Which interaction has the highest likelihood of inspiring better performance?

When we treat others with kindness, we show them that they matter—that they are not just a means to an end, but are important members of our team. When people feel valued, they are eager to work hard and empowered to do their best. Abundant-minded leaders know that high standards and kind behavior go hand-in-hand in a virtuous circle; in the long-term, you cannot achieve one without the other.

Start a Chain Reaction by Modeling Abundance

Can you remember a time when someone celebrated you or complimented your work? Think of how you felt and what it meant to be recognized in front of your colleagues and peers. Moments like this are inspiring—especially when the praise comes from people we respect.

The best leaders celebrate others’ achievements; they aren’t gatekeepers of recognition because they know that highlighting others doesn’t diminish their own worth. In fact, abundant-minded leaders tend to achieve more in the long-run because they are trusted by their constituents. When you are generous with support, that generosity of spirit is returned tenfold.

As a leader, you have a golden opportunity to master the art of leadership abundance—to create a culture where everyone is celebrated. It starts with you. As you model abundance over scarcity, others will follow your lead. Jealousy and unnecessary competitiveness will start to fall away. And although everyone might not have an equal role, everyone can feel equally celebrated for their unique strengths.

When you embody the abundance mindset, you can cultivate an invigorating team that is unified in both caring for one another AND delivering high performance. You can be the catalyst for this by rejecting scarcity, switching from ‘either/or’ to ‘both/and’ thinking, and being both tough-minded on standards and tender-hearted with people.

McKinlee CoveyAbout the Author: McKinlee Covey is an educator, coach, and co-author with Stephen M.R. Covey of the WSJ bestseller, Trust & Inspire

Enjoyed these insights?

Learn more in the ‘Abundance’ chapter of The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights.

Explore our other posts on ‘mindset’ switches:

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– Stephen M. R. Covey
Author of The Speed of Trust

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