The Leadership Mindset – Only If v. If Only

by | Aug 29, 2019 | 5 Minutes to Lead, Professional Growth

“I am not what has happened to me. 
I am what I choose to be.”

Carl Jung

Our mindset is a collection of thoughts, opinions, and beliefs, the lens through how we see the world and behave every day.  How we adjust this lens has a direct influence on our fulfillment in life. 
Two critical words drive our mindset – if and only.  These words may be simple, yet they are powerful based on the order in which they are used. 


  • If only I made more money
  • If only I had more time
  • If only I had a better job
  • If only I had a better boss

We believe that what is happening to us is why we are not successful.  If only “someone” would fix these things our life would be good. 


  • Only if I lived within my means could I be financially secure
  • Only if I prioritized my time more effectively could I get everything done
  • Only if I invested in my current job could I realize greater job satisfaction or be prepared to pursue a new role
  • Only if I provided my boss what he or she needs, could I have a better relationship

Only if leaders look within for answers. Rather than thinking their unfulfilled life stems from what others are doing to them, they eagerly control their own destiny through personal responsibility.

Author Dr. Carol Dweck in her book Mindset believes there are two mindsets – fixed and growth.  A fixed mindset is focused on our current talent and skill sets – believing that what we already know is enough and that future development is not required.  Conversely, a growth mindset is based on the idea that our learning and intelligence can grow over time.  A belief that professional development is a journey not a destination.
When you are not in the room, how do others describe your leadership mindset?  Fixed (if only) or growth (only if)?
What does a growth mindset leader look like? A person who understands the present, with an eye on the future.  They see growth as a winding path forward, rather than a finish line, and their responsibility is to adapt and thrive.
We all can be that growth leader.  First we must look in the mirror to begin our journey. 
Three keys to sustaining a growth, only if mindset:


Keep your mind open to change by thinking and using the term “yet”.  I can’t do that – yet.  I don’t have the answer – yet.  This frame of mind reminds us the importance of curiosity and perseverance.  We are not fixed or satisfied where we are – the journey forward inspires us to achieve more.


Asking good questions is the hallmark of a curious leader.  If only responses often reflect a failure to fully understand a situation, impulsively reacting to what appears to be true.  Leaders play a role to actively listen, explain context, and provide hope for a better future. 

Good News

When confronted with if only behavior, yours or someone else’s, turn the conversation around by asking “what is the good news?”  Leaders look for the best in the worst situations, rather than being naïve or sugarcoating reality.  They define reality and earn respect. 

As a former supervisor once told me when I was guilty of “if only” language in describing my disengaged team, “if you want to have an A team you need to be an A leader”.  She called me out and helped me realize I needed to have a growth mindset.  I had a choice, and I chose growth.

Choose to be great at whatever you do. 

All My Best,