4 Practical Steps to Exceptional Leadership Mindset

By Mike Howerton
Businesswoman giving a high five to her coworker after giving a presentation.

This Is the Biggest Impact You Can Make On Your Business Today



noun: a set of beliefs that shape how you think, feel, behave, and interpret the world around you.

Did you know that the mindset you bring to work every day will affect the people around you and make your business run differently? In the first ten minutes of her fascinating TEDX Talk, Dr. Alicia Crum explains how a simple shift in mindset has been proven to be a solid indicator of performance through research she conducted at Stanford. Her research shows “what we believe, what we expect, and what we think is what determines our body’s response.”

However, showing up intentionally may be more difficult than it sounds for most of us. In order to change your mindset, you have to be aware of the current mindsets you’re functioning under. And according to a study by Harvard Business Review, 95 percent of people think they are self-aware, but only 10-15 percent actually are.

The idea of changing and creating one’s own mindset falls under the broad yet nuanced umbrella of emotional intelligence (EQ), a term defined by Harvard Business School as “the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of those around you.” Psychologist Daniel Goleman, who popularized EQ in the mid-1990s, found that it “accounts for nearly 90 percent of what sets high performers apart from their peers.” 

Most leaders get into high-level roles because of their exceptional technical skillset and unmatched tactical ability. However, those with low EQ inevitably lose their way, as trust and motivation have become increasingly important in leadership in recent years. 2021 research from the global nonprofit Catalyst shows that employees with empathetic leaders report a 76 percent increase in engagement and a 61 percent increase in creativity. 

As a coach and executive, I’ve witnessed years of leadership equity squandered with unplanned and unregulated emotional responses to unforeseen challenges. Without a foundation of emotional intelligence and an intentional mindset, leaders can be easily thrown off track when faced with any change or surprising circumstance. On the other hand, cultivating these attributes allows leaders to show up to work emotionally present, make better decisions, and respond to the unexpected with confidence and strength.  

Mastering an intentional mindset is a practice and something that can grow with the proper habits and thought processes. Below are four things you can do daily to generate high EQ while increasing engagement and performance in your organization.


Start each day with a full tank

Show up filled up, and you’ll be stepping into the leadership space with energy, vitality, and hopefulness. This breeds confidence that empowers you and elevates those around you, allowing you to deal with challenges as they come. 

The secret is self-care, an ironic form of selflessness. When you put on your proverbial oxygen mask first, you can then care for your team and provide the energy and empathy required to lead. Experiment with different routines until you find one that fits your schedule, lifestyle, and unique needs. Here are some examples of easily adoptable daily self-care that works:

An infographic for best self-care practices.
  1. Make sleep your most prized possession. Ensure you get a full night’s sleep, which is roughly eight hours for most adults, followed by a morning routine that brings you joy (gourmet coffee or tea, an early workout, yoga, meditation).
  2. Steward your relationship with alcohol and media intake wisely. This is different for everyone, but discovering your balance here can make a significant impact.
  3. Set aside a regular time to reminisce on recent victories and visualize upcoming wins.
  4. Embrace play and laugh more often, which are both huge stress relievers.

My personal routine includes two simple yet intentional morning habits I discovered years ago and still practice daily: (1) Soul Care and (2) Physical Activity. These practices keep me grounded and help me live elevated. I go to bed at a reasonable hour each night so I can get up early the following day when the world is still quiet. I pour a cup of coffee, grab my journal, and sit by the fire with a couple of inspiring books, both spiritual and business-focused. As I read, I meditate on content and tend to my spirit, usually through a time of journaling. Afterward, I dedicate time to exercise, which provides energy and vitality throughout the day. These early mornings allow me to show up full, joyful, and having won the first victory, which is key to my confidence.


Show up value-saturated

Everything starts with values — the beliefs you hold at the core of your leadership and business strategy. When properly aligned with organizational structure and strategy, workplace values drive impactful decision-making, provide a strong behavioral framework for employees, and act as a catalyst for job satisfaction. But it takes more than choosing a few impactful words and pasting them on the wall for values to stick. To truly make an impact, your values should act as both the cornerstone of your identity and the basis for decision-making.

Identity: When you align with your values, you feel a natural sense of confidence and at home in your ability as a leader to embody those values in your interactions with others.

Decision-making: You’ve heard this old saying before, “When values are clear, decisions are easy.” The first step is to become aware of the values you are operating from today, as opposed to those you aspire to operate from. Only then can you reorganize your internal structures to make those aspirations a reality.

The Insights article 5 Steps To Make Values a Driving Force for Positive Change in Your Company is a great place to start learning how to truly embody your values.


Be patient and intentionally non-reactive

When faced with challenging or unexpected situations, keeping your cool is paramount. However, level-headedness is a practice and doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Building up your emotional tolerance can be accomplished in many ways, but you’ll find a few tried and true practices below:

Meditation – This is a good way to help create the space that allows us to circumvent the necessity to immediately react (often negatively) when a crisis hits. Meditation has also been shown to reduce stress, control anxiety, and enhance self-awareness, among other benefits. According to the American Heart Association, it has been shown to lower blood pressure

Neutral Thinking – In his book It Takes What It Takes, Trevor Moawad builds upon the language of neutral thinking, which is simply thinking without emotional layering or judgment in a clear-eyed, sober manner. Once a situation can be viewed with this level-headed, emotionally suspended perspective, learning and next steps become clearer, sleeves can be rolled up, and the mountain can begin to be moved. However, having a positive or negative reaction at the outset will inevitably derail your ability to find the best possible outcome.

Taking Space – When blindsided or confronted with an unexpected negative reality, step away from the situation, whether virtually or in person, for fifteen minutes. Take that time to breathe, remind yourself of your values, and seek to strip the emotional layering from the situation. It isn’t horrible, it isn’t fantastic, it simply is. Examine it thoughtfully, as if it were happening to another person or organization. If your colleague was facing this situation, how would you counsel them to proceed? Ultimately, what is required of you to respond and lead forward? Once you’ve viewed it neutrally, recall your confidence, resourcefulness, and courage, and you will find the right path as a confident leader.


Show up performance-focused

The highest-performing organizations are those that orbit around a crystal-clear strategic vision. Transcend has been working with clients for years in this regard, helping executives and their organizations define and execute comprehensive, real-time, and long-term strategies through our strategy engagement system

Using the four dimensions of performance: alignment, empowerment, collaboration, and accountability, leaders can create a culture that rotates around the company’s strategy and produces intrinsically motivated talent that will thrive in productivity. The key is to build robust systems and processes that support team alignment, empowerment of decision-makers, and overall collaboration, creating a culture where accountability naturally falls into place. 

As the CEO or executive leader, you should make it a point to be a high-water mark, finding a passionate connection to your organization’s vision and truly understanding the “why” behind it all. Modeling an enterprise-first mentality and rigorously holding your culture to high-performance standards will yield multiples in ROI.

Intentional leaders are successful leaders

Successful leaders show up intentionally, starting with a high level of emotional intelligence. By entering the workplace with a filled tank, clear and inhabited values, patience, non-reactivity, and a focus on performance, you will give your organization the best chance to flourish in any economy and against any challenge. By creating routines and practices that keep EQ top-of-mind, you’ll begin to see your decision-making skills sharpen, have the ability to recruit and retain exceptional talent, and effectively build a team that works from your example. However you decide to show up, your organization will follow suit. Ensuring you do so intentionally will not only positively affect those around you, but could be the missing piece that will get you closer to bringing your strategy to life and ultimately impact your bottom line.

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Mike Howerton

Senior Executive Coach

As a senior executive coach, I have more than 30 years of experience in organizational leadership and personal development coaching.

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