MINDSET COACHING: When soft values drive hard results

From the boardroom to the gym, awareness of your thinking, speaking and actions can be the difference between failure and success.

Being aware and knowing where you lie in space is one of the fundamental priorities for anyone wanting success – it isn’t a magic bullet, but it is the first step. Self-awareness is about understanding your own needs, desires, failings, habits, and everything else that makes you tick. By being more aware, you open up the number of choices available to you in any given situation. The more you know about yourself, the better you are at adapting life changes to suit your needs. It’s a little more complex than the over-saturation of blogs citing the ‘Top 5 Tips To Create Successful Leaders’. If it were that easy, we’d all be doing it. If you don’t know yourself, you can’t expect to put any advice into practice.

I had a discussion at dinner recently where a friend asked, ‘What is it you do at lifehack?’ In explaining that I believed the individual is key, he commented ‘oh, so it’s quite a soft approach then’. I had to pause for a second to ask myself why he might think that, because from what I knew, being aware enough to deal with your own thoughts and actions was much harder and more confronting than recognising a simple skill deficit. I knew it was more challenging to look at yourself objectively and assess emotions and habits than it was to eat up some self-help performance and productivity tips on LinkedIn.

I found myself saying, ‘No, actually, it’s quite the opposite. I find these supposed ‘soft’ values are where most people in leadership and management roles fall down, because they’re focusing on the wrong things. Focusing solely on ‘hard’ values such as growth, profitability and ROI, ruling with an iron fist, being too direct, arrogant and bullying, leads to underperformance.’ People in business who lack interpersonal skills, because they aren’t aware of how they’re behaving, perform poorly over all but the shortest of time periods. And their businesses do as well. This is a verifiable fact. They are poor performers, not only as people managers, but also at developing strategy and delivering bottom-line financial results. In other words, soft values drive hard results.

In their study titled ‘What Predicts Executive Success?’, teams at Green Peak Partners and Cornell University produced some very clear research results:

  • ‘Bully’ traits that are often seen as part of a business-building culture were typically signs of incompetence and lack of strategic intellect – being arrogant or impatient correlated with low rates of financial results and business acumen.
  • Poor interpersonal skills lead to under-performance in most executive functions – executives whose interpersonal skill scores were low also scored poorly on every single performance dimension.
  • Leadership searches give short shrift to ‘self-awareness’, which should actually be a top criterion – executives who are aware of their weaknesses are often better able to hire subordinates who perform well in categories in which the leader lacks acumen.
  • Experience at many different companies is not a positive sign – executives who change jobs frequently are often trying to outrun a problem, and that problem often has to do with how they ‘fit’ in the workplace.

When we improve our awareness, we give ourselves greater choices in life. Our choices can either be paralysing or mobilising, depending on our mindset and ability to read situations. It’s always amazing to me how two people can read the same situations completely differently, and it does go a long way to explaining why we get conflict and problems in the workplace.

We have a choice to respond to any situation that leads to, or away from, success. Feelings of fear and anxiety around scarcity can lead to inaction and seeking others to blame for things not heading in the right direction. This is when we tend to see the worst in leaders as they clutch at straws to reverse trends that are only made worse by their behaviour. Lose the people’s faith and it’s difficult to get it back. Conversely, thinking, speaking and acting in a calm, confident manner allows employees to recognise that there is a plan of action in place and that the thinking that dominates is from a place where there is no shortage of opportunities to create change – abundance. Gain this and those around you will want to do the right thing and work towards your common goal.

When leaders forget their ‘human capital’, they forget the ‘soft’ values like the motivations of their employees, their happiness and feelings towards belonging. They do so at the expense of ‘hard’ results – i.e. the bottom line. But so often we find that it’s the executive who can communicate well with investors, look after their staff and manage with empathy and fairness that gets the best results. It’s time to abandon conventional wisdom and get back to managing people more effectively. Managing from a point of calmness, confidence, abundance and action.

The question is then, how do you become more aware? The challenge is that we store memories according to our experiences, so recalling them in an objective way can be difficult. It’s suggested you:

  • remember you always have a choice – most of our behaviour is purely reactionary based on past similar events. To break a cycle of habit, you need to keep in mind that there is always another way.
  • get a coach – this will give objective ‘feed-forward’ and strategy around goals. It’s not about ‘advice’ – you already have all the answers and know your role best.
  • write your goals down – on average, you’re ten times more likely to achieve something if you write it down. Sounds simple, but no one ever does it. Trying to recall events and emotions because ‘it’s all stored up here’ is useless, as thoughts and memories change over time.
  • meditate or self-examine – it’s definitely the fastest way to get to grips with your thinking. If it sounds too ‘airy fairy’ for you, then at least take small breaks in your day to take stock of how you’re feeling and how it’s affecting what you do and say.

This is not about being a person who is walked all over or ‘wet’ in the boardroom. This is about having a level of emotional intelligence to recognise how you see yourself and, more importantly, how others see you. To get the ‘hard’ results, allow yourself to get a little ‘soft’. Your leadership could depend on it.


Greg Sellar is a performance coach and serial ‘life hacker’, challenging people to change the way they think and act. With a degree in Sports Science and a Diploma in Coaching, Mentoring and Leadership, he has worked with some of the biggest names in global fitness. gregsellar.com