Opinion: How to get rid of “mindset gremlins” to increase sustainability

Morsa Images - Getty

Opinion: How to get rid of “mindset gremlins” to increase sustainability

Assumptions, fears, insecurities, and thought traps that can undermine our decision-making, leadership, and sustainability.
April 28, 2022

Growing and leading an organization is a profoundly creative and generative act. 

Even as we spend time thinking about strategies and tactics, the reality of being an executive director is that we engage in a series of acts of creation. Stewarding a mission requires facing unknown terrain on all fronts - from strategic growth and hiring to board development and fundraising - and moving forward anyway. 

This type of generative work is all about the mind. We often pay lip service to the mindset aspect of leadership, but we don’t often acknowledge how crucial it is to grapple with the assumptions, fears, insecurities, and thought traps that can undermine our decision-making, leadership, and sustainability. 

I call these assumptions, fears, insecurities, and thought traps that undermine us “mindset gremlins.” They are both very real and extremely important. Everything we do as leaders and as people is rooted in how our mind receives, interprets, and processes information. The old adage that perception is reality isn’t too far off base. Our assumptions and perceptions shape how we approach challenges and receive opportunities. It determines what we see as possible. 

For this reason, effective leadership requires us to examine our own lenses, make our assumptions explicit, and build our capacity for clear, positive thinking. We have to be willing to first identify, and then reframe and rewrite some of our foundational beliefs and fears - often about growth, vulnerability, and our own leadership - if we are to build sustainable change organizations and movements. 

Just as there are some pretty common stress dreams, there are also common mindset gremlins that I’ve come across in my research, teaching, and coaching. One of the most pervasive - and pernicious - gremlins is about taking pride in the hustle. 

So many nonprofit leaders are incredible at “making things work” and doing more with less. They cobble together low-cost resources and workshops; they do their own research on google; they don’t invest in their own development; and they submit budgets to our boards that are “responsible” and defensible. While these are laudable skills and traits, this particular gremlin will not support sustainability or growth. 

Instead, it can be incredibly powerful to shift from taking pride in “making it work” to taking pride in building for growth. Rather than celebrating doing more with less, we slay the gremlin by celebrating doing more with more: expanding the pie of resources, building your team, growing your board, and having a deeper impact.

At its core - for some people - this is about an identity shift. We are best able to engage in and sustain the type of generative work that leads to more impact by cultivating the mindset of a leader who sees themselves as being incredible at envisioning and building towards something incredible. 

Brooke Richie-Babbage
Brooke Richie-Babbage is founder of Brooke Richie-Babbage Consulting and works as an impact strategist and coach.
20220626