Case Study: An Empirical Study on Leader Mindsets
By A. Bhatia
This study validates a new lens to view the phenomenon we call Leadership. The lens comprises three Leader Mindsets: 'I Am Everything', 'I Am Nothing' and 'I Am Something.'
Findings of the study provided valuable insights into the concept of three mindsets. The empirical part of the study showed that 75.5 per cent of the participants perceived themselves to be operating in the 'I Am Something' mindset.
The study, conducted during 2018-19, had drawn participation from management professionals, academics and industrialists. It was done by Prof G P Rao, an eminent expert in the field of Organizational Behaviour, duly assisted by Ashok Kumar Bhatia.)
What are Leader Mindsets?
Today's world is characterised by swollen heads and shallow hearts, particularly at the top levels, whether in business or in politics. Indulging in acts of self-destruction – repeatedly, at that - is typical of this mindset.
If one were to try and understand the cause of such a vacillating behaviour on part of Homo sapiens, whether in business or in other areas of human enterprise, one of the explanations which emerges is that of the existence of a sense of self-delusion - of an 'I Am Everything' mindset, and concurrent labelling of others as an 'You Are Nothing' attitude. Surely, this is the bane of human existence and growth. The answer to the bane, therefore, lies in the Self – in awareness, acceptance and adherence to a mindset of 'I Am Something'. The implication is that Self and others are equally responsible in the success, or otherwise, of any act.
Developing the idea further, Prof G P Rao, an expert in Organizational Behaviour, was led to conclude that all human beings inherently possess three mindsets, which could best be described as 'I Am Everything', 'I Am Nothing' and 'I Am Something'. (For a brief introduction of Prof Rao, please see the note on Spandan Foundation at the end of this write-up; the author had assisted him in the course of the study.)
When a leader is in a mindset of the 'I Am Nothing' kind, he could be in an introspective mode. At one extreme, he could be thinking that nothing is under his control. Or, he is so dazzled by the spectacular success of someone else as to start believing that he is incompetent. Long term exposure to a domineering boss could induce a mindset of this nature. A major failure could trigger it. A lack of self-respect and a tendency to become a doormat could facilitate a mindset of this kind.
The mindset of 'I Am Everything' could come about owing to a string of successes being experienced by a leader. A political leader might start believing in his invincibility, either owing to a very strong public mandate or due to other political factors. A business leader who has not suffered a failure for some time may also fall prey to this mindset. He may start acting like a road roller, riding roughshod over people and ethical considerations.
The Leader Mindset approach provides us with yet another lens to view the process of Leadership. The central focus of this approach is that of striking a judicious and humane balance between results and relationships. The outcome is the gradual evolution of an outfit into a Functionally Humane Organisation.
Some Characteristics of Leader Mindsets
These may co-exist in a person. An example is that of a hen-pecked husband at home who is a terrifying boss at the workplace.
Much like the three personality traits – gunas – highlighted by the Bhagavad Gita, the proportion of each mindset may vary over a period of time. One comes across tiger kind of bosses who mellow over time. Or, a meek executive suddenly playing a forceful and authoritative role in a crisis.
Hence the concept of a mindset which is predominant in a professional at any given point in time.
The Empirical Study
The premise of the study conducted by Prof G P Rao during 2017-18 was that there are three basic leader mindsets, namely A: 'I Am Everything', B: 'I Am Nothing' and C: 'I Am Something'.
For the purposes of the study, a three-phase effort of collection of data was adopted:
Phase 1: Pretesting the proposition of three Leader Mindsets (based on discussions with academia and management professionals);
Phase 2: Fieldwork with respondents who volunteered to fill in and return two response sheets (this enabled a self-rating which let participants assess their predominant mindset); and
Phase 3: Seeking the experiences and insights of respondents on the select issues emanating from their responses.
Findings of the Study
Phase 1: Pretesting the Concept of Three Mindsets
Observations made by the respondents went on to validate the concept of the three mindsets. All the observations made provided a wide spectrum of thoughts relating to the three leadership mindsets. Some held an 'I Am Something' mindset to be a pragmatic way of life, while many others felt that no single mindset could be taken as a universal recipe for success. In any case, the three mindsets are relative, subjective, relational, dynamic and evolving. Per se, the lens of three mindsets can be believed to be universally acceptable; a new lens to view the phenomenon we call Leadership.
Detailed observations made by respondents have been captured in Annexure I below.
Phase 2: Fieldwork
The Response Structure
As part of the second phase of the research design, fieldwork was conducted, wherein select individuals and institutions cooperated with Prof G P Rao by becoming respondents in the study. Their responses were collected through e-mails, based on two response sheets which were separately pretested for the purpose.
The 1st Response Sheet: Me and My People
The focus herein was primarily on four items.
The role of their organisation in enabling the management to achieve and maintain an optimal balance between results and relations in the organisation.
The role of the Self, the leader, in achieving and maintaining an optimal balance between results and relations.
Contribution of others functionally related to the leader in the organisation in achieving and maintaining an optimal balance between results and relations.
The extent of contribution by others in enabling the leader to achieve and maintain an optimal balance between results and relations.
A total of 68 participated as respondents for Response Sheet I.
Out of the four issues mentioned, the perception that others contributed towards their leader's success got 78 per cent points and stood first. This finding is significant since it corroborates with the notion that a leader with an 'I Am Something' mindset is people-oriented and believes in the cooperation and support of her team members for achieving success.
The 2nd Response Sheet: Human Values and Leader Mindset
Seventy-three invitee respondents answered a total of 11 questions which explored some personality traits of theirs.
Immediately after receiving the respondents' filled-in Response Sheets, a key to the Response Sheet II was sent to them. This enabled them to administer the key themselves and determine the category and the level to which they were likely to belong.
As many as seventy-three respondents filled in the two response sheets and returned the same.
Of the seventy-three respondents, twenty-nine (or 28.8%) were from the field of management education; thirty-seven (or 50.7%) from management profession and fifteen (20.5%) were Self-employed.
Categories and Levels of Respondents
A total of three categories, each having four levels, were envisaged for categorising the respondents.
A: 'I Am Everything' mindset;
B: 'I Am Nothing' mindset; and,
C: 'I Am Something' mindset.
Each mindset was envisaged to have four levels:
Predominant: 70 percent and above;
Evolving: Below 70 percent but with majority of points out of a total of ten points;
Conflicting: Where stated mindset was found to be in conflict with the stated ten responses;
Confused: Where the stated mindset and the stated responses were not in agreement with each other without any level being in majority.
Phase 3: Post-study interactions with respondents
These yielded valuable insights into the various manifestations of the mindset concept. While some held an 'I Am Something' mindset to be the only way to achieve sustainable success, others compared it to be the equivalent of Theory Y proposed by McGregor many decades back.
Details of these observations appear in Annexure II below.
Key finding of the study
Out of the 73 respondents who filled in the 2nd Response Sheet, 31 (32.5 per cent) felt that they belonged to the predominant level of 'I Am Something' mindset. 23 respondents (33 percent) felt that they belonged to an evolving level of the same mindset. This implies that a total of 55 respondents (or 75.5 percent) perceived themselves to be operating in the 'I Am Something' mindset, whether at the predominant or at an evolving level.
This is understandably an important and finding - that many of the leaders of today appear to have an 'I Am Something' mindset.
This mindset appears to be of greater relevance in the present-day context. A mindset which assumes that the Self - the leader - is a part of the system along with others, and neither above nor below them, is more likely to draw the best from the others at interpersonal and institutional levels.
However, one cannot be judgmental as to which mindset is intrinsically better.
A Roadmap for Implementation
Developing a leader mindset takes place at three levels, which are as follows:
Development of the Self, which includes those whom we might also refer to as either focal persons or as leaders.
The next level is attained when the Self is facilitating others to develop the required mindset.
The third level relates to a situation wherein the Self and her team members act as a team, with special reference to a work situation and in an organisational context.
Essentially, this amounts to the top boss becoming conscious of a need to make the organisation more humane by using the Leader Mindset paradigm.
An exercise of this kind has already been done by Prof G P Rao in an IT company in India.
Phase 1: Initial discussions with academia and professionals
These discussions took place in two forms – either face to face, or through e-mail exchanges.
Here is a summary of the key observations which emerged from this phase of the study.
An exhaustive concept- The unanimous opinion of all the respondents was that the concept of the three mindsets was indisputably an exhaustive one.
No single mindset can be a universal recipe for success
- One participant, a management consultant by profession, felt that different mindsets could be successful in different organisations, based on the kind of goals, the environment in which the goals are sought to be achieved, and the internal culture of the organisation. In other words, no single mindset could be held to be acceptable as a universal recipe for success. For instance, the mindset required to fix an ailing organisation to turn it around, would not be the same as the one necessary to run a profitable firm in a growth environment.
The three mindsets can co-exist; A parallel to three 'gunas'
Another participant, a senior management professional, felt that the three mindsets are not mutually exclusive, but are subjective, relative, relational, dynamic and evolving.
For example, a manager handling a particular function, say Production, for a long time, might end up developing an 'I Am Everything' mindset. However, when it comes to understanding other functions, like Marketing and Finance, she might be out of her depth and adopt either an 'I Am Nothing' or an 'I am Something' mindset.
To this extent, the three leader mindsets are like 'sattva, rajas and tamas', the three 'gunas' or qualities which are mentioned in Indian scriptures. These are inherent in all human beings and dominate human thinking and actions in varying proportions at different times.
The key to understanding one's mindset
One respondent chose to seek an answer to the basic query "Who am I?" This alone could help an individual to understand the mindset he has.
Nothing could lead to Everything
Nothing could lead to Everything
A respondent felt that a realisation that one is nothing leads to one becoming everything.
Of rubber bands and butterflies
Of rubber bands and butterflies
Another likened a leadership mindset to a rubber band, inasmuch as it is necessary for a leader to be fully aware of the limits to his elasticity and the pressure to be applied to achieve satisfactory results. She was of the opinion that the three mindsets are like the three stages in the life of a butterfly – 'I Am Nothing' when being a caterpillar, 'I Am Something' when becoming a pupa, and 'I Am Everything' when it gets transformed into a butterfly. She also felt that a good leader having a healthy mindset and a set of human values will never fail in his/her life.
Of results, values and goals in life/career
A management educator felt that the choice of a leader mindset is a personal one. There is nothing right or wrong in any of the approaches, because it ultimately depends on three parameters – the ability to deliver results, adherence to a value system and measure the results against the career/life milestones one has set for him/herself.
He believes that one can possibly have four turning points in one's life – first, in early 20s when a person decides what kind of career to have; second, in early 40s when the person may feel mid-life rethinking and go in for a second career; thirdly, in early 60s when the person may decide to go for altogether different career – may be of societal nature and lastly, if the person is alive and kicking then he/she may opt for something totally different and unexpected. In this entire journey, the person is actually trying to constantly self-actualise dynamically while pursuing the satisfaction as perceived by him/her.
'I Am Something' a judicious combination of management and philosophy
One of the respondents, a prominent educationist and philanthropist, opined that a leader must have self-esteem. In the spiritual context, 'I Am Nothing' is the ultimate feeling leading to surrender or 'saranagathi'. Zen philosophy talks about emptiness.
A mindset of 'I Am Everything' comes out of supreme confidence or overconfidence which can lead to dictatorship. Taking a mid path is always safe and practical.
Something is the optimum level of feeling neither too much or too low. In Shakespeare's King Lear the third daughter says that I love you dad as much as a daughter should love her father. Neither more, nor less. A mindset of 'I Am Something' is therefore a judicious combination of management and philosophy.
Annexure II: Post-study Insights Phase 3
A managerial versus a spiritual perspective
-A spiritual luminary felt that the results of the analysis are very encouraging in a way. Some think no end of themselves; some are humble, whereas others are not confident, etc.
He felt that the percentage of people having a mindset of 'I Am Something' is the largest and that this may be good in the realm of management and Leadership in management. But, from the spiritual view, a mindset of 'I Am Nothing' is superior. It is the attitude of a real devotee, a man of soul, someone who has surrendered, and one who believes in the Master alone.
On the other hand, 'I Am Everything' is the supreme blind ego-centric person who only believes in himself and his little capacities.
- Yet another management professional echoed similar sentiments. He articulated his insights and thinking in two different perspectives, one from a materialistic point of view and another from a spiritual viewpoint.
The former made him feel that if he has an 'I Am Something' mindset, he has something to offer or contribute. This feeling improves his confidence and outlook. However, there could be times when, while comparing himself to others' achievements, he might end up feeling that 'I Am Nothing'.
But from the spiritualistic or philosophical point of view, he would always feel he is nothing; He is just an instrument because everything happens through me by HIS wish.
By having both these perspectives in our daily lives, a humble approach to problem-solving would come about, and all our actions would be pleasant.
Of Theory Y and the 'I am Something' mindset
One of the respondents to the fieldwork conducted as part of the study, an entrepreneur in a diamond business based in the United States and an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta (IIMC), scored the highest possible score in one part of the study in the 'I Am Something' mindset category. However, in another part, he stated that he belonged to the 'I Am Nothing' mindset. In effect, he accorded a higher importance to the contribution of his team members than his own towards the smooth running and growth of his business.
Further dialogue between him and Prof Rao led him to explain the discrepancy by stating that he followed a 'Theory Y' approach while leading his team of eight persons. He felt he has been very successful in practising good human relations, which, to him, form THE foundation of any and every sound organisation. To him, 'Theory Y' is synonymous to the 'I Am Something' mindset, whereas the three mindsets represent three different levels of a leader's ego. These three, he felt, could apply to any organisation in any place and with any kind of objective – business, social service, and the like.
Study in a Book Form
Details of the study have been compiled in the form of a book entitled 'I am Something: Developing a New Leader Mindset: A step by step approach to being a more humane leader'. (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NDPX2GY)
Brief Profile of Prof G P Rao
Prof G P Rao is the Founder Chairman of the Spandan Foundation for Human Values in Management and Society (Spandan in short) which originated as a result of his academic and research interest. It has been formed by a small group of industrial organisations, management institutions and individuals.
The word 'Spandan' is drawn from the Sanskrit language. It means heartbeat, vibration, pulsation and echo. As a concept, the term is meant to convey that faith in the basic goodness and intrinsic altruism of human beings have both always been the driving force for human existence, growth and development.
Propagation and inculcation of human values in education, management and society.
Humanising Self through communion of hearts.
Businesses deliver suboptimal results when their 'Results' are viewed as being at odds to their 'Relations' with different stakeholders. An optimal balance between 'Results' and 'Relations' needs to be struck; this alone can enable an organisation to achieve its goals effectively and efficiently on a sustainable basis.
The need of the hour is to create Functionally Humane Organisations - a committed group of human beings doing their best in the interests of various stakeholders.
His detailed profile can be accessed at https://www.linkedin.com/in/g-p-rao-69427a56
Ashok Bhatia is an occasional author, a speaker, a regular blogger and content creator on such topics as Management, P G Wodehouse, Bollywood and life in general. Based on his 35 years+ experience in the corporate world, he is acutely aware and conscious of the need for high values and ethics in business. Almost all his articles and books have an underlying current highlighting this very theme. In him, one finds a fierce critic of any kind of compromises on this front. He believes that business ships which are built on a keel of sound values end up not only having a better brand equity but also yield better returns to their stakeholders. When businesses are broad minded and give back to the society at large, they serve a higher purpose. His blog posts can be accessed at ashokbhatia.wordpress.com.