Are you up to something? Maybe you’ve set yourself a daunting goal; maybe you need to produce results you’ve never seen before. You need a breakthrough. 

In my career, I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in four or five organizational breakthroughs: a factory that doubled production in half the floor space; a supply chain that slashed lead times by 80%; massive construction projects completed without hurting a single worker. Behind each of these successes were a host of changes to tools, processes, procedures and systems. But they all had one thing in common: leadership. Specifically, leadership that changed the way people thought about their work, their team and themselves; leadership that changed mindsets, as well as toolkits.

If you’re out to create a breakthrough, start by thinking about mindset – and start with your own before setting out to change anyone else’s. Three elements are vital to a “breakthrough mindset”:

  • Possibility. Until I believe that the thing I’m up to is possible, I’m unlikely to bring my full self to the task. Note that the word is possible, not predictable. The thing I’m up to may be insanely difficult and I may not know how to do it, but so long as I sincerely believe it can be done, I will persevere. Before I engage anyone else, I’m well-served to convince myself that the goal, while daunting, is nonetheless possible.
    • Who’s done this, or something like it, before… maybe in another setting or industry?
    • When have I already done this thing for a brief period of time or on a smaller scale?
    • What stories do I know about people like myself doing seemingly impossible things… overcoming setbacks or tough circumstances, earning degrees, running marathons, passing laws or building businesses?
  • Responsibility. Until I believe I can affect the situation – that I am able-to-respond to it – I’m unlikely to be effective. When I focus on changes “they” need to make “out there” I am at risk of developing a ‘victim’ mentality. My success is beholden to others changing. Better to figure out ways in which I’m a ‘player’ in this game rather than a ‘spectator’ – ways in which I’m part of the problem and the solution.
    • How is this challenge similar to challenges I face elsewhere in my life?
    • How do I contribute to the way things are right now?
    • How do I influence the way others think, feel, talk and behave with regards to this issue?
  • Commitment. This is the secret sauce! When I say to myself, “Yes, I’m up for this… I’m going to make this happen” my situation doesn’t change, but the way I see my situation is transformed. Commitment unveils opportunities and openings; hesitancy reveals barriers, excuses and reasons why-not. When I say to others, “This is what I’m going to do” my situation doesn’t change, but I’m more likely to get help and enroll others!
    • Where else in my life have I experienced the power of commitment… as a parent, spouse, team member, etc.? 
    • How does being committed to something change the way I think and perform?
    • What am I up to here? Specifically: what do I say is possible… that I’m going to cause?
    • Am I willing to say this out-loud to my peers and colleagues? If not, why not? The thing that prevents me from declaring my commitment will likely be a barrier to accomplishing it!

Breakthroughs require leadership – specifically, leadership by you the person sitting in your chair. Before looking for new tools, processes, procedures and systems to change the way we work, look to change the way people think – and start the process by looking at yourself.

Interested in learning more? Ready to adopt a breakthrough mindset? We’re ready to help.  

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About the author: Andy Erickson is a founder and principal consultant at Humanus Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in people-centric leadership. He can be reached at