The 1 Critical Key that Traditional Leadership Training Misses

Have you ever attended leadership training programs sponsored inside your organization, listened to the wonderful information being presented, and thought to yourself, “Yeah, that sounds great, but it doesn’t work when I get back to my office”? After 24 plus years of federal service, and more than seven years as a leadership instructor, and executive coach, I hear this statement repeatedly.

At first, I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I knew that the information provided in the lesson plans was time-tested and well-researched. I also knew that my students were legitimately trying to make these strategies work. So what was missing?

After a great deal of research and personal experience, I’ve found the answer. The missing piece is the foundational piece to make it all work. It’s something I call the Leadership Mindset.”

As we explore the concept of leadership within a bureaucratic organization, three distinct components emerge.

The first component is what I call the Leadership Processes.” These processes encompass the infrastructure or systems in place within the organization. They include the Performance Evaluation system, the Promotion system, the Pay structure, the Leave structure, and so on. The processes also include things like the corporate Equal Employment Opportunity system and the Grievance system, among other things. Many people would consider these Leadership Processes “Management” as opposed to leadership. I would consider that a valid description.

The second component is what I call the Leadership Tactics.” These are the skills we traditionally teach in the leadership development courses inside our organizations. These tactics focus on communicating clearly, setting goals, soliciting feedback, holding difficult conversations, and other “soft” skills necessary for operating effectively as part of a group. We offer conversation starters, lists of “trigger words,” and tell folks how to fold their hands or nod their heads during the exchange.

The third component, the one that traditional leadership training misses, is what I call the Leadership Mindset.” It is who an individual must authentically be on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level in order for the leadership processes and tactics that we learn inside our organizations to work. The Leadership Mindset” is the key that allows leaders to reduce stress, negotiate conflicting values, recognize internal conflicts, foresee upcoming challenges, and skillfully react to unexpected opportunities.

In a curious, yet somehow appropriate, paradox, the Leadership Mindset” is not something that your organization can “teach” or “provide” to you on an institutional basis. Institutional self-awareness classes and internal staff coaching programs can offer a starting point. However, these internal programs are not sufficient to prepare leaders for the challenges they are facing today. i.e. government furloughs, generational shifts, restricted budgets, etc. Why? Because the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual requirements of the Leadership Mindset” are unique to each individual. They cannot be installed from the outside, rather they must be grown from the inside.

The personal growth required to excel in this challenging environment can only come through individual commitment at a personal core level. When a leader commits her valuable, limited resources in developing her authentic Leadership Mindset”, her unique, natural leadership abilities emerge on their own to be refined via the Leadership Tactics” and given structure via the Leadership Processes.” The moment that you commit to growing your own Leadership Mindset,” whatever it takes, is the moment you begin to integrate a career you love into a life you love and create the change you want to see in the world.

Martha Austin is a Leadership Engineer and Personal Career Architect on a mission to restore passion and purpose to our federal government one individual at a time by shifting the culture from sacrifice to serve and prosper. She is a current federal employee with more than 23 years of service, a leadership instructor, a certified professional coach, and creator of the Conscious Leadership Blueprint ™. She is honored to serve government employees, and other dedicated professionals, posted domestically and overseas. For additional Conscious Leadership Tips and the strategies to implement them, plus a short quiz to see how you stack up as a Conscious Leader, enter your name and email address at

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David B. Grinberg

Thanks for sharing this awesome post, Martha. You make a lot of excellent points. Anyone who is, or wants to be, a “leader” should read this twice — and then read it again.