A positive mindset helps leaders influence how well others think and what they do.

Do you find yourself wondering if it is really possible for people to change?

Do you find yourself doubting your own ability to respond to change?

Does this sometimes hold you back?

Change is a complex dynamic for us. In one sense, it is a natural part of our everyday life and evolution. In another sense, it is unsettling as aspects feel out of our control and unpredictable.

Our drive for control is related to our survival instincts, hence why we are so sensitive to it.

In business, as in life, we are seeking control so we can have greater influence over our ability to not just survive but succeed. When we feel we lack influence, we can feel disempowered, disconnected, unimportant, and under-valued. We disengage and mentally check-out. Our thinking heads along a path of limitation as we look at the negatives and for the evidence that supports our views.

A key principle in positive psychology is around mindset. When we are in a more positive mindset, we are more creative. We connect with others, we trust, we have hope, and we look for the possibilities of what could be.

For example, Dweck (2014) often uses the phrase “Yes and” as a way of demonstrating what it looks like in conversations in teams. Mindset keeps us in the open space of thinking.

Path of possibility and limitation

Our mindset is, therefore key in how we approach Leadership, particularly in a world of constant, rapid, mainly unpredictable change.

Our thinking causes the firing of specific neurons and the different chemicals produced then affect what we feel and do. At its simplest level, our thinking is a neural network. Some paths of this network are physically stronger than others as they are used more often and have existed physically for longer in the brain. When seeking to drive change, we are looking to change our neural network i.e. neuroplasticity.

We know from neuroscience that when we feel safe, we have the positive chemical dopamine circulating in our system (Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that impacts reward, motivation, working memory and attention) rather than cortisol which is triggered when we feel unsafe (Cortisol is a neurotransmitter that enables us, under threat, to have a burst of energy). These affect our thinking ability, and when we are feeling unsafe, we have a physiological response (e.g. blood moves away from our brain to our body to enable us to react physically), and as such, it is harder to engage with our executive function.

Under stress, our prefrontal cortex does not function well, i.e. the area of the brain involved in all our executive functions, our ability to plan, decision making, expressing our personality, aligning our thoughts and goals, moderating social behaviour.

Therefore, we respond better to approaches that help us help nurture a feeling of safety and trust, then we can create a “high-performing neural environment” (Brann, 2022) that enables our executive function to engage with better thinking.

For example, as a coach, when we are creating environments for change, we are trying to create a “high-performing neural environment” in a coaching session. This is when your brain is in the most helpful state for whatever you want to do. As a coach, we are trying to trigger and influence different brain states in our coachee to help modify and create new neural networks.

We can look at how we change from two perspectives (Laske 2004):

  1. A developmental shift i.e. along the journey of adult development in terms of maturity and self-actualisation.
  2. A behavioural change i.e. actual change in what someone does as a result, which can often be an unpredictably long time.

In Leadership, whether we are leading ourselves, a project, a matrix team, a direct team, a company and so on, we are seeking to influence and drive behaviour to help us achieve outcomes. Those outcomes may vary in clarity and visibility, but ultimately it is about what we and/or others are doing in our behaviour to reach these. Hence, clarity on outcomes and vision is so important – or it is like sailing without a map and compass, adrift or going in the wrong direction. However, our patterns of thinking have a huge impact on what we do.

Those who choose to understand, at a deeper level, how and why they think in the way they do, have a greater opportunity to be conscious in their thinking and develop better neural networks that are beneficial, rather than detrimental.

  • How often have you realised you’ve self-sabotaged yourself in achieving your own goals?
  • How often have you found yourself saying something that negatively impacts someone else’s behaviour?

We often over-prioritise what we do over what we think because that is the visible piece. That’s the easy-to-understand, easy-to-see part that we can change, right?


Unless the thinking behind the behaviour is understood and influenced, then any attempt at changing behaviour will eventually fail.

In our Leadership of ourselves and others, we should take greater responsibility for thinking – that of our own and that of others. It is not something we should ‘leave at the door’ or ‘address that outside of work’.

A focus on our mindset has a direct correlation with how we behave.

Do you fear this sounds hard? Unrealistic? Impossible? Are you thinking – how as a leader can I influence how others think?

Let me reassure you; it is not as hard as you think. Having faith in your own brain’s plasticity and taking small steps towards changing your thinking helps you along the path of possibility and ultimately – change.

It is a shift in thinking, but once we start to have faith in our own ability to adapt and change, we begin to naturally influence others, often by what we are saying, what we are doing, questions we are asking and where we are focussing.

Imagine walking into an event your team were responsible for delivering. It has been hard going organising it, and many things have gone wrong. However, the day of the event has arrived. You could have two different conversations as a leader.

  • The first – looking at what is going wrong and working with the team to fix those problems on the day.
  • The second – looking at what is going right and encouraging the team to focus on building on those successes on the day and worry less about what is going wrong.

Which is more likely to lead to better team performance and motivation?

The research strongly shows the latter.

As the leader, we are helping create a high-performing neural environment for people to think clearly. When they are more able to access their executive function they collaborate, create and by making more of what is working well, the problems are often resolved in the process.

Therefore, I give you three thoughts in response to where we started:

  1. Yes, it is definitely possible for people to change.
  2. Your doubt is the only thing holding back your own ability to change.
  3. Working on your mindset and understanding how you can influence it in yourselves and others will lead to stronger Leadership through any circumstance.
future focussed success framework

At Co-Creation Group, we help people develop a deeper self-awareness about their mindset. Our Futurist Leadership programme is our first module to helping leaders get into a better space in their thinking, so they can lead people through change using a growth mindset approach. Find out more by contacting us on info@co-creation.group.


Laske, O. (2004). Can evidence based coaching increase ROI. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 2 (2), 41-53.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.

Brann, A. (2022). Neuroscience for coaches: How coaches and managers can use the latest insights to benefit clients and teams, 3rd edition. Kogan Page.