Leadership begins with mindset. What is mindset you may ask? Mindset refers to the ideas, beliefs and attitudes with which a leader approaches a situation. Thus mindsets are the foundation of great leadership, as mindset forms the basis for action.

The VUCA environment of today is rewriting the rules of business. The result is that leaders desperately need new mindsets and new ways of looking at the world. Consider the cause of some of the biggest leadership failures of the past decade:

  • Kodak created the first digital camera, an 8 pound, 0.01 megapixel still camera, in 1975. Despite Kodak’s technical innovations – which were numerous – Kodak failed to adapt to the new digital world. In February 2012, Kodak announced that it would cease making digital cameras.
  • Blockbuster was an American provider of home movie rentals through retail shops. The company later added DVD-by-mail, streaming, video on demand and cinema theatre. Blockbuster at it’s peak in 2004, had up to 60,000 employees and more than 9,000 stores. However, Blockbuster failed to adapt to changes in it’s environment and respond to competition from the likes of Netflix. On April 6, 2011, the company and its remaining 1,700 stores were bought by satellite television provider Dish Network at auction for $233 million.
  • Borders Books was an international book and music retailer. The company employed about 19,500 staff in its Borders and Waldenbooks stores. Borders too failed to respond to a changing environment and increased competition. On July 7, 2010, Borders opened an eBook store to allow books to be directly downloaded to an e-reader. But, It was too late. On February 16, 2011, Borders applied for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and began liquidating 226 of its remain stores in the United States.

These companies did not fail due to a lack of technical know-how. Each of these companies had the necessary leadership skill set. So what happened?


The failure of these companies was due to the lack of an effective leadership mindset. What derailed the leaders of these organisations was the combination of a changing environment and a mindset that was stuck in the past. The shift in their industries toward digital required new mindsets, new ways of seeing, and new ways of being. They needed new maps to navigate their organisations into the future. These leaders failed to shift their mindset as required to compete in the new business environment.

“Unfortunately, top people are often there because they are expert in what was important yesterday… We put more energy into developing skill sets, rather than the right mindsets” – Professor Jonas RidderstrÅle, Stockholm School of Economics

Past success and outdated leadership mindsets are the biggest inhibitors of future success.

Leadership is not about the how – the skills of leadership. The skills of leadership will only get you so far. In business today, leaders need to focus as much on the development of their mindset, as they do on the development of skillets. Organisations desperately need new visions and new maps to navigate by.

Too many organisations are busy with the tasks of yesterday. Leaders need to stop doing the tasks of the past and make way for the new.