What is the big deal about having an outward mindset?
Funny how one can go through life thinking you are among the thoughtful, selfless, caring, and trustworthy human beings. Then, something happens that causes you to pause — to question how you see yourself and what you believe to be true. Maybe you take a course or read a book, and it makes you question your beliefs. Sometimes what you discover can be a real shocker!
At first, you are defensive and angry. Then, as reality sets in, you feel remorse. You kick yourself for missing what now seems so obvious. After a little reflection, you recognize that there is still time to improve. There is a path to becoming the person you thought you were before the revelation.
Does that scenario sound familiar? Has it happened to you? Well, it certainly happened to me. I used to tell my husband how I took pride in always thinking of others before myself. He must have thought I was nuts! What’s that saying? “Pride comes before the fall.”
In 2016, over dinner with Chris Hoffman, Superintendent of Elk Grove Unified School District, and right before their Ford NGL designation, I was introduced to the Arbinger Institute and something called “the outward mindset.” Chris shared that he read the book, Leadership and Self-Deception. Our ensuing conversation made me curious to learn more, and I immediately ordered the book. The day the book arrived, I poured a big glass of wine (thought I might need it), drew a hot bath, and settled in amongst the bubbles to read a chapter or two. Half a book and nearly a bottle later, I realized I had a lot to atone for. If the water in the tub hadn’t gotten so cold, I probably would have read the whole darn thing!
The bottom line is that an outward mindset is about seeing people as unique individuals and not as objects or barriers that get in our way. It is about how we carry around “very heavy boxes” that can sabotage our relationships and block us from achieving success in our personal and professional lives. When the lightbulb comes on and you see how you contribute to the sabotage, you cannot unsee it. Let me share a little bit about how critical our mindset is to the way in which we see others and approach life.
Let’s start with what it means to have an inward mindset. If you have an inward mindset, then others don’t matter like you matter. Wow — just say those words out loud. If your mindset is inward, you often see people as:
- Vehicles that I manipulate, threaten or control.
- Obstacles that I blame, criticize or punish.
- Irrelevancies that I ignore, exclude or belittle.
When you approach life with an outward mindset, others matter like you matter. When others are seen as unique individuals:
- Our objectives and behaviors take others into account.
- I can see their needs, objectives, and challenges, and their objectives and challenges matter to me.
In my aha moment, I realized that I was unconsciously doing several things to sabotage both my professional and my personal relationships. Below are two ways in which I and others can sabotage our relationships.
Ever have that gut feeling that you are not responding the way you should? For example, it might sound like this in your head. “I should go help my husband rake the leaves, but I work all day, and he is retired. He can do it.” When we have a sense of what we should do (or not do) and do it anyway — that is self-betrayal. I realized I was doing that a lot!
What are the red flags for this kind of behavior? Sometimes it’s feeling justified or victimized. Other times it may be an exaggeration or blaming others. In my case, the red flags include detaching myself from someone and making a joke (taking a jab) at the expense of another.
Inward Style Boxes:
You remember I mentioned those “heavy boxes” we carry around. They come fully loaded with:
- Better than.
- I deserve.
- Worse than.
- Need to be seen as.
For each box, there is a self-view and a way you will feel. For instance, when you are burdened with the ”better than” box, your self-view is one of being superior, more important, or virtuous. Those views will leave you feeling impatient, indifferent, and possibly disdainful. Each box has a self-view and a feeling that is attached to it.
In my case, the heavy box I often carry around is the “need to be seen as” box. Too often my self-view is one of being watched, judged, and at risk. That self-view makes me feel anxious, stressed, overwhelmed! Believe it or not, we all engage in self-betrayal at one time or another and carry our heavy boxes with us all the time. The good news is that when you recognize them, you can start to do something positive about them.
The Ford NGL team adopted the outward mindset about three years ago. As a team, we went through Outward Mindset Training and continue to apply the principles taught in our interactions with each other. Are we perfect? No, absolutely not. But, we work at it every day, and we hold ourselves and each other accountable. I cannot even begin to tell you how this has transformed our culture and team. We had a cool culture to begin with, but with an outward mindset, we have learned to build higher levels of trust and stronger relationships. We have developed more meaningful partnerships, and we reflect on our actions regularly as a way to improve even further.
I encourage you to:
- Invest in reading the following Arbinger books in this order.
- Leadership and Self-Deception — This book is an insightful and easy read. It will help you examine all the ways you might be sabotaging relationships that matter to you or should matter to you. In my opinion, reading this book is eye-opening and will ground you in the basics.
- Anatomy of Peace — This book goes deeper into how we sometimes get in our own way. It does so through a story about a father, his son, and the man’s relationship with his wife and colleagues.
- The Outward Mindset — This book is the “how to.” It will help you recognize an inward mindset and introduce you to the tools needed to build an outward mindset.
- Take the “Developing and Implementing an Outward Mindset” course. Seriously — just take the course. It will change your life. It really will! Before you do, though, please read the book Leadership and Self-Deception first. We took our whole team through this course. Truth be told, I have been through it three times!
- If you want to train others in your organization on how to recognize an inward mindset and use the outward mindset tools, take the course “Developing and Implementing an Outward Mindset — Train the Trainer.”
- Our COO and I also took “Outward Leadership.” This course helped us apply outward leadership tools around, 1) accountability, 2) collaboration, 3) conflict and relationship, and 4) supervision.
Over the years I’ve had incredible opportunities to improve my leadership, coaching, and personal and professional skill sets. For that, I am incredibly grateful. In all sincerity, however, nothing has compared to how The Outward Mindset has changed my life and my relationships. I still have lots of work to do, but what I learned from the Arbinger Institute will forever be a vital part of how I think, act, and live life. I want to continue to push myself to be better and maintaining an outward mindset empowers me to do so.
Finally, I want to personally thank Chris Hoffman again for introducing me to this gold mine called Arbinger. I owe Chris a debt of gratitude that is best repaid by sharing Arbinger and The Outward Mindset with others.