seven mindsets that hold your organization back

As I’ve worked at different businesses, churches, and organizations, I’ve noticed how certain mindsets always lead to stagnant or declining situations. No one sets out to think these ways, but they creep in, torpedoing growth and improvement. Be on the lookout for these seven destructive mindsets, because left unchecked they will cripple your organization.

bad mindset #1: organizations allow a disconnect between what is talked about (words) and what is done (actions).

This mindset happens when people talk a good game about what the organization is doing, but none of it ever takes places. Business leaders talk about being innovative, but cannot name the last time innovative product they created. Church leaders will go on about their commitment to discipleship or evangelism or the poor, but the pastor can’t point to changed lives. A person will wax poetic about their dynamic leadership, but can’t tell you what they’ve led. Talk is cheap and action is hard, resulting most mission statements, goals, and initiatives never making it beyond the idea stage.

Why it’s so dangerous: When we talk about things that we never do, it allows you to skip having to do the hard work of putting your words into action. Saying the right words inoculates your organization from any criticism of a lack of action. “Look,” they say, “of course we care about issue X, we talk about it all of the time.” This compounds the problem, because not only is nothing happening, but the organization has deceived itself through its words. This creates situations where:

  • Most business never become innovative because they already think they they are.

  • Most churches can never do the hard ministry work (evangelism and working with outsiders are the two most common), because everyone assumes that since the leadership talks about it all the time it must be happening.

  • Organizations lack strong leaders because the leadership positions are full of people who talk about doing the hard things, rather than ever doing them.

What to do about it: Whenever you talk about what you’d like to do, ask yourself or others whether this actually ever leads to any action. Work to be a person of action, and refuse to say that you do something unless you have actively done it in the last six months, not because it is a trendy thing to say.

bad mindset #2: organizations place the blame for failure on factors outside of the organization’s control

In this mindset the organization believes that the problems it faces are primarily caused by outside forces that can’t be controlled by the organization.

  • With the way society is going, you would expect attendance to go down.

  • The economy is tough right now so it’s not surprising things are slow.

  • Our donors are being stingy right now. What’s wrong with them?

This mindset shows up when the results of the organization are seen as completely disconnected from things that the organization can control. When an initiative fails or revenue is down, people look to blame things outside of the organization. 

Why It’s Dangerous: This mindset allows your organization to be a victim of the situation around it. When you think this way, you forfeit agency over your situation and give it to external factors that you can't control, allowing yourself to escape the hard work of having to change yourself. 

What To Do: Quit worrying about the things outside of your control and start focusing on the things that you can control. Don’t fixate on the fixed things outside of your sphere of influence, and spend your time and energy changing what you can control. Always ask, “How are we contributing to the situation that we're complaining about?”

bad mindset #3: organizations believe everything can stay the same yet the results will get better.

In this mindset, an organization knows it has problems, but keeps waiting for them to fix themselves. People expect things to magically get better the next time around. You can find this mindset whenever there is a lot of hoping and wishing: “I hope that more people will come next month,” or “Hopefully in the future our budget won’t be so tight,” but there is no action or even acknowledgement of the need for change. Different results require different actions.

Why this is so dangerous: Hope is important, but hope is not a plan. When you are only hoping things will get better, you can avoid the messiness of having to actually figure out why things aren’t working. Change is a scary process, and weak leadership will avoid it because digging into an organization’s brokenness may reflect poorly on them. People use this mindset to sugarcoat their situation, and so that no one ever has to be the bad guy. But when this happens, organizations just atrophy and die..

What to do about it: Do the hard work of finding the root causes for why a failure is happening. Then, come up ways to address these root causes and implement them. If you're a leader and the thing you are leading is not working, be willing to admit that you may be part of the problem. Leaders often shut these conversations down because they know they will involve a discussion of their leadership decisions.

bad mindset #4: organizations keep waiting for a more opportune time to act.

In this mindset, an organization decides to delay an initiative or change in hope that there’s a future time when it would be easier or more convenient. You hear things like “This is a really busy season for everyone, let’s wait for the next calendar year for things can calm down.” or “I’d like to have more money saved up before we try this out.” Individuals struggle with this one a lot, saying things like, “I’d like to start exercising now, but it will be easier once it is spring so I will wait for then.”

Why this is so dangerous: Waiting for an opportune time isn’t usually about patience, but rather fear. You're afraid that your idea won’t work, so you keep pushing it off into the future. You keep telling everyone how great it will be once it happens, but you're secretly afraid that it won’t work. This is dangerous because years will go by and you will have never expanded into a new market, never planted a new church, or never made the career switch that you wanted to.

What to do about it: Do two things: first, figure out the crucial steps to the success of your idea. Then throw your energy into these important steps that will actually move the needle, not just making you feel better about procrastinating. Secondly, recognize that you will never be able to remove all of the risk from a situation. Eventually you will just have to jump in and start swimming.

bad mindset #5: organizations assume that since they excel at one thing, they must do everything well.

Every organization has something that they excel in, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. They have a great product, friendly service, or attractive marketing, just to name a few. But in this mindset, an organization will use a strength to immunize itself against criticism of any of its weaknesses. You can tell this exists when an organization uses an unrelated strength as an antidote to why criticism is unfounded. 

Why this is dangerous: Your strengths help you grow, but your weaknesses are often the things that cause you to blow up. Kodak is a classic example; they took such great pride in being the leader of film-based camera equipment that they closed themselves off to the fact that their customers were switching to digital cameras.

What to do about it: When someone brings up a weakness or criticism of your organization, don’t respond by shifting the focus to your strengths. Understand that other people and organizations haves strengths that you can learn from, even if they are weak in areas that you are strong.

bad mindset #6: an organization labels anyone who disagrees or critiques something as uncommitted or misinformed.

When an organization begins to dismiss any disagreement or critique as examples of disloyal behavior, it is in danger of putting its head in the sand about key problems that it's facing. There is an attitude of, “If you were really with us, you would see that everything is great.”

Why this is dangerous: There are a lot of organizations that aren't healthy and need to change if they want to survive. This mindset silences dissent and rewards agreement, which leaves  an organization vulnerable to groupthink and overconfidence. It also negates one of an organization’s biggest strengths, the ability for an array of perspectives and experiences to contribute to solving a problem.

What To Do: Recognize that no one in an organization has all of the information needed for it to succeed. Leadership, employees, and customers/members all have unique types of knowledge that are valuable to decision making.  Also, leaders and managers need to see critique not as personal attacks on them, in most cases, but rather different strengths complementing each other.

bad mindset #7: organizations believe that since it’s worked to this point, it will continue to work in the future.

Many people and organizations are slowly lulled to sleep and forget that the world is changing every day. This happens because the physical world hasn't change much, so we assume that the mental and spiritual worlds haven't changed either. Because everything looks the same, they downplay how much the emotional and intellectual world is changing around them. Yet every 20-25 years there is a new generation with different attitudes, goals, and beliefs about the world. New technology and techniques create different challenges and opportunities that must be acknowledged and adjusted for.

Why this is dangerous: Most organizations think that if they ever decline, there will be warning signs which give them plenty of time to make adjustments. But life rarely happens that way. A new competitor springs up and everyone flocks to them. A church goes through a rough patch and in six months half of their members leave. Assuming what you’ve done will always work gives your organization permission to be out of touch with its customers and/or members.

What to do about it: Strong organizations gather feedback about what works and what doesn’t in order to understand cultural changes while they're still small. It’s crucial to understand changes when they're small so that you can try out new adjustments. With this in mind, organizations need to constantly analyze how they can grow or change with the future in mind. Also, keep in mind Steve Jobs’ advice that people rarely know what they want, so it is on the organization to create what they don’t even know they need yet. Remember, organizations have to change to stay the same, so avoid getting caught up in "the good old days" thinking.


There’s nothing easy about changing these mindsets. But unless they are acknowledged and addressed, they will continue to plague your organization and disrupt your efforts to succeed.