Mindsets for change leaders: a new leadership development approach

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Embargoed until 2022-06-22
Copyright: Hastings, Bradley
Decades of research on organizational change and its leadership has explored the influence of leaders on change outcomes. Yet, despite this accumulated effort, the likelihood of success remains stubbornly low. This dissertation explores: how do leaders improve the likelihood of change success? Prior scholarship has examined this question from two perspectives. Change practice discussion describes change processes, the activities that enable change, with allied suggestions for leader engagement – how to lead change processes. Change leadership discussion studies leader attributes, aiming to identify and generalize those allied with success and, in doing so, provide guidance for leadership development. Addressing the leader-success challenge, scholars have identified two problems: (1) these two discussions lack integration – while it is difficult to talk about change leadership without inherently referring to a change process, the former discussion overlooks the available choices between change processes, and (2) the study of attributes has yielded desired leader behaviors, yet evidence shows that these behaviors do not always manifest in practice. Addressing the first challenge, I commence with a process study of 79 cases of change. This research finds that a dynamic choice between two perspectives of change processes – illustrated as diagnostic and dialogic – significantly improves the likelihood of change success. It also extends an understanding of a leadership practice that facilitates this choice. Integrating these findings, I develop a model that explains how choice connects change leadership to change process knowledge, at the same time as providing a roadmap for leaders to navigate between diagnostic and dialogic processes in practice. Addressing the second challenge, psychologists explain a key limitation of behavioral study is that a large component of people’s behavior is a product of situational cues. To explain this phenomenon, these scholars have explored mindsets, describing how behavioral dispositions result from mental frameworks that stand ‘ready to fire’ based on situational cues. My second study establishes psychology-derived mindsets as relevant for leadership engagement of change processes. It does so by developing a typology of mindset constructs, then conducting an integrative review of mindset knowledge between change leadership and psychology settings. This study matches the fixed and growth mindsets with leadership engagement of diagnostic and dialogic change processes. My third study empirically examines how the fixed and growth mindsets manifest within leaders when change is targeted. It finds that leaders with a growth mindset are likely to choose to oscillate between change processes and achieve change success. Further, I identify that diagnostic change processes can provide situational cues that foster a fixed mindset within leaders, with detrimental effects on outcomes. Integrating these findings from all three studies, this dissertation puts forward a new means for leadership development – mindset activation theory – explaining a means for leaders to take control of their situation-mindset interaction and guide their behaviors in practice. It demonstrates how leaders can increase awareness of and operationalize the situational cues that guide their mindset, facilitating choices between change processes that improve their likelihood of change success.
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Hastings, Bradley
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PhD Doctorate
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