PMTips: We are happy to announce, that today we are interviewing Ryan Gottfredson, Assistant Professor of Leadership at the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics at California State University-Fullerton; Best-Selling Author of Success Mindsets; Consultant, Trainer, and Speaker.  With his daily activities, Ryan helps organizations, leaders, and managers identify their current mindsets and shape them to fuel better decision-making, growth, and performance.

In addition to his experience as a Consultant, Trainer, and Speaker, he is a respected authority and researcher on topics related to leadership, management, and organizational behavior. Ryan has published over 17 articles across a variety of journals including the Journal of Management, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Business Horizons, Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, and Journal of Leadership Studies. His research has been cited (more than 2,000 times since 2015)

This year, Ryan has published his first book Success Mindsets: Your Keys to Unlocking Greater Success in Your Life, Work, & Leadership, which has gone to become a Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-seller.

Ryan, thank you for accepting our invitation. It is our great pleasure to have you as a guest and share your knowledge and experience with our users.

Ryan Gottfredson: Oh thank you so much for having me as a guest and I’m so excited to be introduced to your audience.

PMTips: Ryan, you hold a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Human Resources from Indiana University. What motivated you to peruse a Ph.D. in this area and can you tell us more about your research background?

Ryan Gottfredson: Yeah thank you for asking. So I think that I realized my interest to study topics related to Organizational Behavior when I was in high school. My most favorite class in high school and I'm not sure if there's any other school in the country that has this class and I imagine we probably didn't have it for very long, but the class was Sports Psychology. During the class, I read books such as Seven Habits by Stephen R. Covey. I read some leadership books by some professional basketball coaches like Pat Riley and I remember being in that class reading these books on leadership and thinking “man if there's a career out there where I could write books like this..”. That is what I would love to do.

I just didn't know that there was a field of study that looked at that until several years later I met a professor at Harvard Business School, I asked him what he taught, he said Organizational Behavior, and I asked him what Organizational Behavior is? He essentially said the study of people within businesses and it is the psychology behind why people do, what they do within an organizational setting. 

For me this was the moment the light bulb went off as this is exactly like sports psychology but applied to business and that this could be a great fit for me. 
So that kind of set me on the trajectory of going in the direction of organizational behavior and human resources and ultimately that landed it me at Indiana University where I did my Ph.D. and now I am at the  California State University-Fullerton where I teach and do research on leadership.

PMTips: Looking back at your professional experience, you first started your career as a Human Resource Intern in an international company for medical devices. What would you say were the primary challenges you encountered when starting with your professional career?

Ryan Gottfredson: Yeah, working at Striker was one of the best experiences that I have had.  What made it such a great experience is I had the best manager I have ever had. That manager individualized her leadership for me and got the most out of me. 

I was very engaged in my job. I would not say that it was necessarily a challenge to get going, it was a great experience because it helped me to make the decision: do I want to go the academic route, or do I want to do go the corporate route? And while that was a very positive experience one of the things I realized is I wanted to be more of a creator of knowledge as opposed to a user of knowledge and so that's one of the reasons why I went the academic route. 

But looking back on that experience I see that there were some, I wouldn't say challenges but some lessons that were learned that helped me both in terms of the current research that I’m doing but also professionally.  One of the things that I learned is as a young 20-year-old working in this large international organization is I became focused on trying to get ahead doing what was best for myself.  

I look back on that situation while I think I had a really great experience and I accomplished some really great things at the same time while I was doing things well I’m not sure I had the right motives behind those things.  What I’ve come to learn through my research and also my consulting is our motives matter just as much as what we do and the better the motives that we have the more effective we can be, that was one of the big lessons that I learned from that experience. 

PMTips: And you already scratched the surface on your motivation to pursue a career in academia. Can you elaborate more on this topic? Why exactly did you decide to pursue an academic career?

Ryan Gottfredson: Yes, so I guess going back to my vision as a high scholar that I would love to write books at some point in time um and bring about ideas that could better the lives of others. And I’m not saying you can't do that in other disciplines but for me, one of the fits was  I felt like was academia and I think this speaks to some of my own skills strengths and talents that I have.  

I consider myself a natural go-getter, I don't necessarily need anybody to light a fire under me in order to get going and I enjoy a lot of autonomy.  So for me, academia seemed like a really great fit because I could light my own fire and I could have the freedom and flexibility to work on the projects that I want to work on as opposed to within a corporate environment.  I’ve kind of felt when I’ve worked in those places that I have to work on the projects that are of most interest to the customers.  

That is one of the reasons why I enjoy research so much is because nobody is telling me what to do research on. I could choose exactly what I want to do research on and so I really enjoy the autonomy that comes with that.  However, now that I’m both an academic and a consultant  I could take the things that I’m learning from my research and apply them into businesses and help organizations to become more effective and more successful.

PMTips: Ryan, currently you are a leadership and management professor at the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics at California State University-Fullerton, where you have been recognized as one of the best professors. How challenging is to be responsible for educating young people who are just starting to scratch the surface of their professional life? 

Ryan Gottfredson: I would say one, I just find it interesting how you ask how challenging is it, and I guess I don't see it as being challenging in the sense of. Because I see it as an opportunity as opposed to a maybe a challenge and that's just my perspective not that it's easy but I’m incredibly fortunate to have the ability to work with young people who are starting out in their careers and try to help them be successful. 

I love working with them and we have a really unique demographic at California State University-Fullerton. Many people don't know this but California State University-Fullerton, our Business School is the fourth largest business school in the United States student population-wise.  We've got about ten thousand-business school students, the majority of these are undergraduate students, and the majority of these students are minority students and first-generation college students.  

This population is an incredibly meaningful group to work with because they are the first for many of them they are the first in their family to ever go to college. And I’m in a position especially teaching courses on organizational behavior and leadership to be able to not just help them be successful in their careers but really to be successful in life. How do we become a person that can become successful really in any discipline or any domain in which they operate? Whether that is work on their family, professional groups, churches, teams…

I love working with these students and being able to just help them become better people and I consider it a very unique opportunity. I am really blessed to be in a position where I could have that opportunity.

PMTips: I have mentioned in the introduction of this interview that you have published many articles covering topics such as leadership behaviors and follower performance, emotional intelligence, performance management… Your work has been published across of verity of respected journals and your research has been cited over 2,000 times. In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, you talk about developing the right mindset in order to become a great leader. Accordingly, to you, which characteristics are essentials for anyone who is aspiring to be a frontrunner and have a successful managerial career?

Ryan Gottfredson: Great question, I love the question. 

In fact, really, the leader academic leadership literature has spent 70 years essentially trying to answer that question. I am going to just rephrase it briefly but in the last 70 years of leadership research, the primary thing that's been a focus is what do leaders need to do to be effective or and what characteristics do they need to possess. And this is good, and we have a lot of answers, maybe don't have a whole lot of precision because there are so many answers but at the same time, I think that that question and that perspective is a little bit short-sighted.

I don't think that leaders are effective because of solely what they do. I think in order to be an effective leader we need to not just focus on our doing, instead we need to focus on our being.  And for the last seven years, the primary focus of my research has been how do we tap into this being element of leadership and everything has led me to mindsets. Because mindsets are the mental lenses that we wear that shape how we view the world and depending upon how we view the world that shapes how we think about the world, how we learn in our world, and how we behave in our world. 

So for example, if we have two different people and they both receive constructive criticism, well depending upon their mindsets they're going to interpret that differently.  They're going to think about it differently and they're going to behave differently.  The one person who sees constructive criticism as a bad thing is going to naturally get defensive and probably ignore that constructive criticism.  But somebody who sees constructive criticism as being a good thing they're going to approach it, they're going to use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. And the interesting thing is that when it comes to developing ourselves or even developing leaders and managers and people in our organizations the most overlooked thing is mindsets yet it's the most foundational aspect for why we do what we do.  

In fact, a recent research project that I worked on is I interviewed or I surveyed 150 training and development professionals in their organizations. What they said is the number one thing that they focus on for developing their leaders is interpersonal skills and communication skills. So seventy percent of organizations say they focus on interpersonal or communication skills to develop their leaders. Only twelve percent of organizations said that they focused on mindsets. And here is the thing that's interesting is if organizations don't focus on mindsets they say that they are effective at developing their leaders 33 percent of the time but if they do focus on mindsets in developing their leaders they say that they are effective at developing their leaders 66 of the time.  So they're twice as effective at developing their leaders if they focus on their mindsets.

That is currently the space that I play in. I help organizations to develop their people and their culture through a focus on mindsets

PMTips: You provide training for professionals looking to improve their leadership skills. Some of the companies, which you have collaborated including CVS Health, Deutsche Telekom, Mondelez, and Circle K. Can you tell us more about your training practice?

Ryan Gottfredson: Well it always depends on the organization and what they are focused on. So what they want to improve.  And I would say most organizations that I work with they want to improve the development of their leaders or the development of their employees in general, or they want to make their organization more agile and future-ready and I come at all of these topics and try to drive all of these factors through a focus on mindsets.  

One of the first things that I do when I work with organizations is I have a mindset assessment. In fact, if you're interested in taking it it's free on my website at, but I’ll have these individuals whether it's a group of leaders a department or even the organization as a whole take my mindset assessment in advance of a workshop.  Then what happens is once I get their results in is I can aggregate their results up to the collective level and look at the collective mindsets within that group or within that organization.  

It provides a deep dive in terms of the quality of the current culture it allows us to identify the common fears the common roadblocks that the organization is experiencing in terms of leadership effectiveness agility and future-readiness. Based upon the results that we get from that collective assessment then we could implement a wide variety of programming in order to help facilitate the development and the shift of mindsets within the organization.

PMTips: Ryan, one of the many reasons why we are happy to have you as a guest is to discuss your new book Success Mindsets: Your Keys to Unlocking Greater Success in Your Life, Work, & Leadership. What motivated you to write this book and can you tell us more about the idea behind it? 

Ryan Gottfredson: Thank you for asking. The primary reason why I wanted to write this book is that what I’ve learned for through both 30 plus years of academic research has already been done in my own research is as I mentioned our mindsets are foundational to our success. But the problem with this and I think that many people think about the concept of mindsets as being this fluffy topic and the reality is there's a lot of substance to this topic. In fact, our mindsets are literally neural connections in our prefrontal cortex that shape how our brain operates. I think one of the challenges and one of the reasons why many people and organizations do not focus on mindsets is simply because they don't know which mindsets to focus on. So, my book presents a summary of essentially the last 30 years of mindset research across psychology education management and marketing. I’ve just brought all of this research together into one framework into one book to help people awaken to what mindsets are out there, what mindsets they currently have and what mindsets they need to develop if they want to unlock greater success in their life work and leadership

PMTips: When you were writing Success Mindsets, did you had a type of target reader’s group in mind? To whom would you say this book is intended to, and what can the readers expect from Success Mindsets?

Ryan Gottfredson: had primarily three audiences in mind when I wrote this book. 

The first audience I’m going to call them natural achievers are people who want to be on the cutting edge of their own personal development or they want to institute cutting-edge developmental work within their organizations.

The next group, audience, that I had in mind, as I wrote this are people who have felt stuck whether it's in their personal life or in their professional life. And I consider myself somebody who has felt that way in both aspects of my life. I want to help these people get unstuck and I think the best way to get unstuck if we feel stuck is to focus on our mindsets.

The third audience that I had in mind was organizational leaders,  helping them better understand that they need to bring the idea and the concepts of mindsets into their organizations if they want to become more successful.

Those are the three audiences.  

What I would say in terms of what readers can expect from the book is I believe that it is it will allow the reader to do perhaps the deepest introspective dive into themselves that they have ever done. When we do that type of work, what that means for us is we are deepening our self-awareness, we're deepening our mindfulness and we're enhancing our emotional intelligence and which will allow us to unlock the success that we're seeking. 

PMTips: Very important topics according to me. 

Ryan Gottfredson: Yeah I think so, but I am biased (laugh) 

PMTips: Ryan, you are an Assistant Professor, Consultant, Trainer, Speaker and Best-Selling Author.  There is no doubt that you have an exciting career with many undertakings, thus it is unavoidable to ask you about your next endeavors.  Are you working on a new article, research paper, or perhaps on the outline of a new book?

Ryan Gottfredson: All of the above. I’m busy which is great but I am itching to start writing my next book…I’ve learned a lot…. so even though my book Success Mindsets, just came out in May officially, I haven't added any content to the book for probably almost two years. It was kind of a long process to get it into the marketplace and I’ve learned a lot in the last two years when it comes to mindset.  So I’m itch chomping at the bit to provide the new learnings that I have.

And one of the aspects that I’m excited to bring out into the world is I want individuals when they read this next book to do an even deeper dive into their selves. We're going to cover topics that relate to as leaders what our fears and our insecurities are and how those are connected to mindsets. In fact, one of the places that I’m going to go and where I’m currently doing some research around is the role that life trauma plays in shaping our mindsets, and therefore how we operate. 

One of the things that I found as I work with organizations is a lot of times an hr leader will bring me into work with their executives or a particular executive and what is commonly said is this person this leader is wreaking havoc on the organization.  But they can't see it and we need you to help them deepen their self-awareness and their emotional intelligence so that they quit wreaking havoc on the organization. Because this leader is thinking “I'm doing the best that I can but they're having a detrimental effect on the organization”.   And so what I’m finding as I work with these leaders is that these types of individuals have a very strong resistance to even looking in inwardly. They have a really hard time introspecting and so as I’m doing research on this what I’m finding is that what psychologists have found is, when people struggle to look inward it can be a sign that they experience significant trauma at some point in their life.  

And I think that if we want to do a better job of developing leaders in organizations we're going to have to address some tough topics like trauma and the role that that plays and how individuals develop. So it's a really interesting area of research to kind of explore this because I don't think really anybody has looked at this from a leadership perspective and I’m excited to roll that out into the next book...

PMTips: That sounds like a very interesting research question I hope that we will have the opportunity to talk again and discuss your next book in more detail.

Ryan Gottfredson: I hope so too, that'd be great.

PMTips: 2020 will go down in history as one of the most challenging years in the new century. Among the many troubles brought by the coronavirus, we are facing changes in our professional life as well. How can one manage to stay organize and productive in a time of a global pandemic? 

Ryan Gottfredson: It's such an important question. One of the things that we need to realize is that when a crisis occurs and I think that is this coronavirus is a global crisis affecting everybody but regardless of the crisis when a crisis occurs our natural reaction is to be like a turtle that puts its head in its shell to just self-protect. 

But this is really problematic when it comes to us being adaptable, agile, and successful moving forward in the future. Because when we are in self-protection mode we are primarily focused on ourselves and just kind of maintaining the status quo but if we really want to be successful and navigate the crisis in the most effective way, we've got to be really intentional about keeping our necks out and about looking for the opportunities associated with the crisis.

To give you a quick example of this is I’ve got two pizza places down the street from my house both on opposite sides of the intersection and when the coronavirus hit and we shut down kind of our economy, one pizza place essentially went dark. The other pizza place, they started to be very engaged in the community, they were posting a lot on social media and they offered up a promotion and that was that you could buy a make at home pizza kit. And at the start of the shutdown many of the stores in our area toilet paper was not found and so as part of this promotion they said if you buy this make from home pizza kit we'll actually give you a roll of toilet paper. And so one of the things as I look at this and how we've got essentially two very similar businesses, one was like this turtle they pulled their head in their shell and they just were hoping to survive, the other group they kept their neck out in such a way that was probably costly for them in the short term but what it was doing was they were benefiting the community. They were strengthening their relationships with their customers.

When we think long term about these two pizza places which one is going to be better off and I think the answer is probably pretty clear, it's the pizza place that is developing better relationships with its customers and so that that's maybe costly in the short term but it's going to have huge benefits in the long term. 

In order for us to navigate this time, we've got to be very intentional about keeping our necks out as opposed to reverting back to this self-protection mode.

PMTips: And we have to stay optimistic about the future…

Ryan Gottfredson: For sure. This is our mindsets, how do we see the situation, do you see it for new opportunities or do you see it as though the sky is falling?  How we see this pandemic is going to shape how we think about the pandemic, how we learn in the pandemic and how we behave as we go through the pandemic

PMTips: Ryan, lastly what would your advice be for anyone who is aspiring to improve their performance and to be successful in their professional life?

Ryan Gottfredson: Yes, great question. So I think that when most people try to improve as I mentioned earlier, they try to generally focus on behaviors what do I need to do differently
But one of the things that I’ve learned from my own personal experience s that when I try to do things differently, I feel like it just doesn't go very smoothly it's really, uncomfortable and I generally don't feel like I’m as successful at improving as I would like to be. And what I’ve learned through doing mindset research is the reason why it's not very successful is that if we try to improve our behaviors but we don't simultaneously try to improve our mindsets, our prevailing mindsets will continually resist the changes that we're trying to make. And so if we want to improve ourselves
at a personal or professional level the best place to start is with our mindsets. Because as we shift our mindsets forward naturally, our thinking will improve, and naturally our behaviors will improve. it's a much more natural way of developing ourselves. 

So I hope if anything in this interview it just motivates individuals to want to dive into the topic more deeply, to learn more about mindsets and what mindsets they currently have and what mindsets they need to develop if they want to unlock greater success. And as I mentioned, one of the places that you can start is at my website at where you can take my free mindset assessment, and then also my book is available there as well.  If you go through my website there's a whole host of freebies uh that are available so for example if you buy the print version you could get the audio version for free and there are other resources as well…. but those are a couple that might be of interest to your listeners…

PMTips: Ryan thank you for your time. I will for sure add Success Mindset to my reading list and I encourage all of our listeners to do the same. It was my pleasure talking to you

Ryan Gottfredson: Yes, it is very great to be connected with you. Thank you so much and thank you for the great questions.


This interview was conducted by Julijana Kekenovska