Mindsets Not Initiatives

When I’m asked to look at organizational plans, one item that emerges as problematic is when it is initiative rich without clear connections to mindsets.

Initiatives get all the buzz. These get all the focus. But very, very little in terms of organizational growth is about initiatives. The key is collective and individual mindset growth.

How do you know if you are initiative implementation focused instead of mindset growth focused?

  1. People talk about organizational fatigue or too many initiatives instead of talk about organizational evolution and adjustments of initiatives
  2. People use negative, frustrated, and tense language such as “how long will this last?” instead of thoughtful, inquisitive language such as “what does this mean and how can I utilize this”
  3. Leadership uses language associated with getting buy-in instead of language associated with people coming to believe, grow, and lead
  4. Success is measured in terms of project completion instead of measured in terms of ongoing organizational influence and progress

Organizational fatigue is not a problem of perpetual motion. It is a problem of initiative buy-in focus instead of mindset belief growth. It is a problem of a short-term win focus.

Now don’t get me wrong. Initiatives are important. However, these need to be tied to the mindsets that organizations are trying to grow. If not, you’ll find people concerned about time, another initiative, etc.

I believe in these mindsets: a sense of agency, agility, collaboration, freedom, innovation, joy and happiness. With each initiative that I lead, I ask the following:

  1. does this initiative support or go against those mindset
  2. how will these initiatives continue to grow those mindset
  3. how are these presented in order to show support for those mindsets
  4. if the initiative is against these mindsets, how is this shared and discussed so we have organizational and landscape awareness.

What are the mindsets you value? How are these being tied to and supported by initiatives?


  1. Thanks Ryan. The language of “buy in” is pervasive. Teachers talk about how to get students to buy in, principals talk about how to get teachers to buy in and system leaders talk about how to get principals to buy in. I think being clear with all stakeholders about the “why” of any initiative is a good place to start. It can help foster a system culture where everyone feels like they are in on things at ground level. I also think having a set of touchstone questions or right drivers to ask of prospective initiatives helps schools and systems stay on course.

    • Thanks for the reply, Patrick. Buy-in is pervasive and I often wonder if leaders know what they are even saying. Many I feel don’t mean it in salesperson mentality but that is the unintended meaning behind it.

      Not to mention, it is much less laborious to get buyin than belief in.

  2. Hi Ryan,

    Great post – really helped me separate the sheep from the goats as it were. I think what you call “mindsets” is what I’ve often called school “culture” – that set of defining values a subtlly or not so subtly impacts how staff treat kids and each other.

    I’d love to see you expand on this post with an example or two to help clarify. (Sounding like my old English teacher self!)

    All the best,



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