“Why in the world do you need all of that shampoo and conditioner?”
I was unpacking from a week on the road after staying in four different hotels in four nights when my wife noticed me unloading my toiletry pack with four mini shampoo bottles and four mini conditioner bottles. She stared at me with a puzzled look. In my bathroom closet was a bin full of similar bottles that was growing out of control. And while I never really needed any of it, I knew why I had hoarded it.
As I have noted in earlier blogs, I grew up in a pretty poor family and to this day, I know what it is like to not have enough of the basic necessities in life. It is this experience that I think conditioned me to have a scarcity mindset – a fear that if I don’t get something I want or need, there might not be enough of it later.
Author and businessman Steven Covey first coined the terms “scarcity” and “abundance” mindset in his best-selling 1989 book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey said that people with a scarcity mindset “think there is only so much in the world to go around. It’s as if they see life as a pie. When another person gets a big piece, they get less. Such people are always trying to get even, to pull others down to their level so they can get an equal or even bigger piece of the pie.”
Okay, so perhaps my toiletry addiction is a mild example of what Covey is talking about. But I still understand that feeling that comes when scarcity mindset takes hold and can recognize it in others.
Do you remember the toilet paper hoarding that greeted the earliest days of the global pandemic? That is a perfect example of people taking aggressive – if not irrational – action to get something for themselves with the knowledge that in doing so, others would go without.
I’ve also worked for leaders who were dominated by a scarcity mindset. These are the leaders who hoard the credit for business successes and aren’t willing to accept any blame or accountability when things go wrong. These leaders analyze every task and challenge in terms of what they can get out of it for themselves, without any consideration for what that mindset will do to others.
What are some other obvious signs of a leader with a scarcity mindset?
How can leaders escape the scarcity mindset and develop more of an abundance mindset?
There’s no secret recipe for defusing a scarcity mindset. As a business leader, you need to focus on creating a psychologically safe environment for your teams, where people can embrace a fail-fast approach to problem solving and learn from their mistakes. One where everyone carries the burden of failure and shares in success.
A whole bunch of people have tried to define the characteristics of an abundance mindset in business leadership. Here is a list of what I think distinguishes the abundance leaders from the scarcity leaders:
Above all, you need to develop and support your people to be the best they can be, and then help them pursue other career opportunities. In essence, you need to give people the kind of support you would want to have from a leader.
I’m happy to say that I’ve stopped hoarding toiletries from hotels. I still feel tempted, but for the most part I have managed to keep my scarcity tendencies in check. And if I can do it, I feel as if there is hope for all of us.