How building a healthier mindset creates high performance finance leaders

If you were born before 1975, you may have a belief that a healthy mindset is the result of great performance. Meaning, we do well, then feel well. Since then, we have learnt a lot more about how the mind operates, and how high performance can be achieved, where it appears the reverse may be more likely.

A healthy mindset results in high performance. My training as a psychologist, experience running businesses, and well, life experience has shown me this does appear to be true.

Five years ago, I was engaged by a medium-sized and growing professional services practice that had issues with unwanted staff turnover, which was negatively impacting financial performance. Their workforce was a range of highly experienced professionals, some who were partners, through to recent graduates. The general manager and managing director believed issues influencing staff turnover were conflict within the leadership group; a variety of problematic behaviours of all staff (e.g. conflict, crying, gossip, avoiding discussions); and a lack of awareness of the impact of these behaviours across all levels of the organisation.

This organisation also had many strengths. For example, they were seen as a progressive firm that provided a modern and fun environment for their team. Their managing director was passionate, creative and a true entrepreneur.

After conducting a variety of quantitative and qualitative analyses at an individual and group level, what I uncovered was a lack of trust among peers and the leadership team. There was also an undeniable level of stress around busy periods of the year, where staff were either on sick leave or venting their frustrations on others. I decided to first help their leaders, build a healthier mindset. The reason for this is that my previous research and experience as a leader, clearly showed that when leaders are unable to navigate times of stress effectively, their people often cop the brunt of it.

Other research also identified that trust can be broken with and within if the leadership team, if leaders lack self-awareness around how an unhealthy mindset leads to unhealthy behaviours, unhealthy conflict, and unwanted resignations.

Since Covid-19 leaders have also had to navigate new ways of connecting with their direct report and colleagues, which has further required not just a change in operations, but also mindset. For example, replicating a 2 hour face-to-face meeting to a 2 hour zoom meeting, is not the same, and for many exhausting and adds to stress. I have helped many leaders over the past 2 years, overcome sometimes a fixed mindset of how they used to lead a team, towards a new and often more effective approach.

Below you can see the pre- and post-measures I conducted for this professional services firm, over an 18-month period. The two leadership teams (executive and operations) came up with names of the measures used. All of the measures improved, with the ones is red demonstrating a statistically significant result. Many of the leaders put this down to learning to step back, recognise their reactions and accept that others react differently from them.

What I witnessed was an emergence of understanding and, dare I say it, compassion for one another. Now a few years on when I visit this organisation, the MD and GM said they still use the strategies to keep themselves and their leadership team on track.

What did I use?

In this case a series of educational workshops on stress, mindset, resilience, trust, behaviour and providing feedback, followed by group and 1-1 coaching to help them implement and then embed the strategies, that made sense to them. One of these was the Matrix. No, nothing to do with the movie. While if you are a fan of the movie, some said they can see the blue and red pill when practicing the Matrix. What is the Matrix?

In simple terms, a science-based tool, that helps Leaders and their team build awareness around how they show up in a time of stress, (when they are not aware of it), and what they can do to shift out of a negative or unhealthy mindset. It is so easy to use, and one of the best tools I have come across. I can’t take the credit for it, while Dr Kevin Polk can.

Whether you use the Matrix or some other tool, such as 360 feedback, personality assessment, coaching, on or off-site professional development, what I found to be critical in creating high performance leaders was to start with ‘where are you now?’ Not where the leader thinks they are, or should be, but where they actually are. Some call this the ideal and actual self. When this is identified (as hard as it can be for some), a great platform is created to launch a new journey towards being a happier, healthier and better leader.

About the author:

Margie Ireland is the author of The Happy Healthy Leader – how to achieve your potential even during a crisis. Margie is a registered Psychologist, Leadership Coach and Workshop Facilitator, highly sought after to help Leaders and their teams navigate stress and change with healthier coping strategies, leading to happier, healthier, and high-performing teams.

For more information visit www.margieireland.com