How your Mental Maps Shape Your Leadership

May 09, 2024

Do you understand your patterns of working and what is driving them?

Research is showing that our mental maps, expectations, and how we interpret messages from others, play a critical role in our perception.

Because so many of our actions and behaviours stem from our habits, or happen when we are on auto pilot, most of us don’t recognise our mental maps.  Our brains are working quickly and mental maps speed up our decision making often influencing our decision making before we realise.

What are our mental maps?

Mental maps, also known as cognitive maps, are internal representations of the external world. They are the mental shortcuts that help us process information and navigate our environment efficiently. These maps are formed through personal experiences, education, culture, and other influences, and they shape how we perceive situations, react to challenges, and interact with others.

As leaders, its critical that we understand our mental maps.

It allows us to critically examine our assumptions and biases. This awareness is crucial because it affects how we perceive our team's abilities, motivations, and the dynamics of group interactions. Recognising our own mental maps helps us to adjust our behaviour to be more effective and inclusive.

Leaders are making decisions multiple times every day, often without really thinking about it.  Decisions are often made based on how we interpret information through our mental maps. Being aware of these cognitive frameworks allows us to question our initial judgments and seek out alternative viewpoints or solutions we may have not been aware of. This helps us to make more balanced and considered decisions.

One of the biggest insights in knowing your mental map is effective communication.  Not only do we as leaders have our own unique mental maps, so does everyone around us.  Understanding this helps us to tailor our communication, clarify our messages and seek to understand how our communication is received, ensuring we are not creating confusion.

Strategies to Leverage Your Mental Maps:

As leaders we should seek to not only understand but also to consciously adapt our mental maps, here’s how to get started:

Reflective Practices: Regular reflection on decisions and interactions can help you become aware of your mental maps and biases.

Seek Diversity in Thought:  Encouraging diverse teams and tapping into different people’s ideas can help broaden your mental map, introducing you to different perspectives and solutions.

Committing to lifelong learning—through reading, training, and exposure to different cultures and ways of working—supports you to evolve your mental maps.

Be truly open; to listening and changing your perspective.

Add an open question to your toolbox such as “I’m curious to know why you think that?” And ask it often.

Investing time in understanding and adapting your mental maps and those of your team can support you to lead more effectively. This deeper comprehension not only enhances leadership skills but also contributes to creating a more adaptive, innovative, and inclusive organisational culture.  Who doesn’t want that?

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