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Mindsets That Distinguish the Best Leaders from the Rest


In a world filled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, effective leadership has become more critical than ever before. The ability to make difficult decisions and navigate through challenging times requires a unique set of qualities and mindsets. Singapore Mentorship Committee was privileged to have the Chairman Emeritus of North Asia at McKinsey & Company, Andre Andonian, share his insights on the mindsets that distinguish the best leaders from the rest during his speech at the Singapore Mentorship Committee's hike on May 20th, 2023.

Mr Andonian, drawing from his extensive experience working with global top leaders, emphasised the importance of mindset in leadership. He stressed that a leader's mindset is shaped by their beliefs and influences their actions, behaviours, and habits. By understanding and developing these mindsets, leaders can effectively interact with the outside world and inspire others.


The Top Ten Mindset of Exceptional Leaders

Based on his 35-year tenure at McKinsey & Company, Mr Andonian distilled the top ten mindset characteristics of exceptional leaders.

Firstly, these leaders possess a strong sense of purpose, viewing their work as a lifelong calling rather than a fleeting endeavour. Mr. Andonian shared an anecdote about meeting Pope Francis and how the Pope's sense of purpose was deeply ingrained in him from a young age, making his role as the Pope more than just a fleeting ambition, which had enabled him to become successful and influential in his role today. Secondly, they exhibit razor-sharp focus on their mission, staying curious but prioritising what truly matters to accomplish their goals.

Additionally, the best leaders maintain a positive and optimistic outlook while also remaining vigilant to potential threats and long-term implications. They strike a balance between being intelligent and emotionally intelligent, combining their IQ, EQ, and RQ (relationship quotient) to connect dots, understand people, and build trust-based relationships.

Furthermore, these leaders embrace a growth mindset, constantly pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and embracing discomfort as a means for personal and professional growth. They demonstrate discipline akin to high-performance athletes, effectively managing their energy rather than just their time.

Humility and authenticity are key attributes of exceptional leaders. They acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses and remain grounded despite achievements or recognition. Finally, resilience plays a crucial role as leaders face setbacks and challenges. They frame their experiences in a way that empowers them to move forward, finding alternative solutions and never giving up.


How Exceptional Leaders Lead

In addition to mindset attributes, Mr Andonian highlighted how leaders should lead. They must set ambitious aspirations that motivate and inspire their teams. He cited the example of Ajay Banga, the former CEO of Mastercard who boldly said that he did not want to be the leader of payments, but to simply kill cash.

Leaders excel in treating the "soft stuff" – the people-oriented aspects of leadership – with rigour and discipline, recognising that they cannot achieve their goals alone. They build and align organisations to achieve collective success. Mr Andonian highlights how one cannot be perfect but teams certainly can be perfect.

The best leaders also lead other leaders, empowering them to excel and create high-performing teams. They seek external help and input to enhance their decision-making and effectiveness. By understanding the "why" of their own organisation and others, they create ecosystems that foster collaboration and innovation. Lastly, exceptional leaders always look ahead, focusing on who they want to be rather than solely on their to-do lists.

Mr Andonian emphasised that developing these mindsets and leadership qualities is a lifelong journey. He encouraged aspiring leaders to seek mentors and surround themselves with support systems. Starting early and embracing curiosity, open-mindedness, and a willingness to ask for feedback are crucial steps on this path. He ended his speech with a quote from IBM’s former CEO, Ginni Rometty: “You are the limit and you should shape your future and avoid getting shaped by others.”


As we navigate an increasingly complex and challenging world, the mindsets Mr Andonian shared can groom future leaders to navigate uncertainty, inspire their teams, and shape a better future. By embodying these mindsets and continuously learning and adapting, leaders can rise above the rest and make a meaningful impact in their organisations and beyond.

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