7 Mindsets That Will Hold Your Organization Back

What’s the most important thing you need to succeed in your career? Talent? Skills? Connections? While these three things are important, everyone overlooks the role your mindset plays in being successful. So many young people are talented, skilled, and connected, but don’t reach their potential because they’ve adopted broken mindsets. I’ve compiled these seven harmful mindsets so that you can be aware of them in your organization, and ensure that you don’t fall prey to the same thinking. Good thinking will take you places that your talent, skills, and connections alone won’t take you.

bad mindset 1: your organization allows a disconnect between what’s talked about (words) and what’s 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, no one is really being changed. A person will wax poetic about their dynamic leadership, but can’t tell you what they’ve led. Talk is cheap, action is hard, yet most mission statements, goals, and initiatives never make it beyond the word stage. Life isn’t about what you know, but rather what you do consistently.

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, discipleship, serving the poor/needy), 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 leads to any action. Work to be a person of action, and only say you do something if you have actively done it recently, and not because it is a trendy thing to say.

bad mindset 2: your organization places 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 external forces outside their control.

  • “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 occurs when you need a scapegoat for a poor situation or performance. When an initiative fails or revenue is down, people need to blame something other than themselves.

Why It’s Dangerous: This mindset makes your organization into a victim of the situation around it. When thinking this way, you forfeit agency over your situation and give it to external factors that you cannot control. It allows you to blame other things so that you don’t have to do the hard work of changing yourself. When it’s not your fault there’s nothing you can do, after all.

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, “Since I can’t control those things, what could I control that would help improve this situations?”

bad mindset 3: your organization believes everything can stay the same yet the results will get better.

In this mindset, the 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 always 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 slowly atrophy and die.

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

bad mindset 4: your organization keeps 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 more easier. You hear things like “This is a really busy season for everyone, let’s wait until things 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’s spring so I will wait until then.”

Why this is so dangerous: Waiting for an opportune time isn’t about patience, but fear. You are afraid that your idea won’t work, so you keep pushing it off into the future, maintaining how great it’ll be once it happens. Secretly, though, you’ve never dealt with your fear that it won’t work. This is dangerous because years will go by and you’ll 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 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 possibilities. 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 flaws left unchecked can 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 have strengths that you can learn from, even if they are weak in areas that you are strong.

bad mindset 6: your 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’s 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 are not great, and need to change if they want to survive. This mindset silences dissent and rewards blind agreement, which leaves the 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, so it will continue to work in the future.

Many people and organizations are lulled to sleep to the idea that the world isn’t changing. This happens because the physical world around them looks the same; they work in the same office, drive the same streets, and live in the same house. Because everything appears 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 are still small. This allows the organization to make incremental changes that keep it healthy. With this in mind, organizations need to constantly analyze ways they need to 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.


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. If you do the hard work of digging up and replacing these rotten mindsets, you’ll see your efforts rewards for years to come.

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