How to Apply The E+R=O Mindset in Leadership

This is the fourth post in a series on The E+R=O Mindset. Links to other posts are at the bottom of this page. 

The previous three posts focused on E+R=O in regard to personal and professional development. This one focuses on the impact E+R=O can have on leadership.

As with the previous posts, if you are not familiar with E+R=O, here is a quick review.

Click here to skip the review.

The E+R=O Mindset vs. The E=O Mindset.

E+R=O stands for Event + RESPONSE = Outcome.

Most people, however, do not embrace an E+R=O mindset. Instead, they have an E=O mindset (Event = Outcome).

An E=O mindset believes the events we experience determine our outcomes. This is why so many people have victim mentalities. If events determine outcomes, there's not much we can do to positively shape our lives.

But if you add an R to the equation, everything changes!

Those who embrace an E+R=O mindset (Event + RESPONSE = Outcome) realize that most of the events they face are out of their control. However, they also believe they can choose their response. And by choosing their response, they shape their outcomes. This means they can take a negative event and turn it into a positive outcome. They can face adversity and turn it into an advantage. This is what I call being Response-ABLE.

The Greatest Leadership Gift

Leadership isn't for the faint of heart.

Blazing the trail. Building consensus. Making tough decisions. Handling conflict. Hiring. Firing. And most of all, giving credit when things go well while shouldering the blame when things go poorly. Needless to say, cowardice and leadership don't go hand-in-hand.

In the midst of all these ups and downs, there is one leadership gift you can consistently give yourself and your team. It's a courageous gift that is not always comfortable, yet it's the best gift to give whether others choose to receive it or not.

What is the gift?


And at its core, understanding the difference between an E=O mentality and the E+R=O mindset IS the gift of reality!

The Gift of Reality

Here are two bold statements that I believe are at the core of reality.

  • It is impossible to experience true success with an E=O mindset.
  • It is impossible to overcome challenges without an E+R=O mindset.

Here's why I believe these two statements are foundational to understanding how the real world works…

Let's start with an E=O Mentality. 

The vast majority of events we experience are out of our control. We don't control the weather, economy, attitudes or biases of other people, actions taken by others, or even the random things that happen to us. That's reality!

However, if you believe Event = Outcome, you give control to the very thing over which you have no control. You give control to EVENTS!

As a result, this gives rise to blaming your outcomes on outside circumstances. You become a victim who finds excuses for why things go wrong. And step-by-step, this approach takes you down a path that goes in the opposite direction of success.

Now let's consider the E+R=O Mindset.

Success in any endeavor requires you to face challenges and overcome difficulties.

  • Want to become a person of character?
  • Want to develop self-discipline?
  • Want to be a good parent?
  • Want to be a leader who equips and empowers others?
  • Want to have a rewarding career?
  • Want to build a business?
  • Want to become financially independent?

These are a small sampling of the successes most people hope to experience. Each is demanding. Each requires effort, consistency, and grit. And all will involve overcoming significant obstacles along the way.

Yet it is impossible to overcome obstacles by allowing events, which are out of your control, to determine your outcome. In order to be successful, you must become Response-ABLE. You must choose to live Event + RESPONSE = Outcome.

Responding vs. Reacting

Let's make this discussion practical to leadership. When it comes to leading others, the best leaders respond instead of reacting (and they equip team members to do the same).

Here's what that looks like…

REACTING is meeting one action with another action. It's often instantaneous and rash. In fact, most reactions, at least for me, tend to go something like this:

  • Panic or get Perturbed
  • Proceed

Interestingly, we use the root word react to talk about catastrophes like a “chain reaction” or “chemical reaction”. What vivid pictures of what it looks like when we react to something!

On the other hand, RESPONDING means you are “in control of” or “in charge of ” how you choose to behave. Again, I like calling this Response-ABLE. Responses go something like this:

  • Pause
  • Process
  • Plan
  • Proceed

See the difference?

Being a Response-ABLE leader means you are PRO-active instead of RE-active. You anticipate, think through, and then proceed instead of immediately (and often emotionally) reacting with little thought or planning.

One last insight before moving on. People often ask: When facing an intense situation, how can a leader respond instead of reacting in that moment?

This is why E+R=O is so important in leadership. E+R=O teaches you to pause and process in the moment instead of reacting rashly. You might not have time to plan deeply before proceeding forward, but you can at least assess the situation. Later on, you can reexamine what happened and make plans for how to best proceed in the future. That's leadership! And that's the power of E+R=O in leadership.

The 4 Fence Posts of Being Response-ABLE

Let's wrap up with one more picture of reality.

Below is what I call the 4 Fence Posts of Being Response-ABLE.

The inside of the fence (i.e. the gray diamond) represents a person's life. On the corners of the fence are fence posts. Each represents an area for which all people are 100 percent responsible. In other words, every single one of us is personally in charge of these four areas. No one else controls them. We each must take 100 percent ownership of these four areas and how we choose to respond.

For instance:

  • Attitude — No matter what events you experience, you and you alone have ownership over your attitude.
  • Associations — Only you choose the associations that influence your life. In other words, who do you allow to speak into your life? And what kind of media, books, or ideas do you allow to shape you? These are your choices and your choices alone.
  • Articulation — Only you determine what proceeds from your mouth. You have complete control over the words you utter to yourself and others.
  • Actions — No matter what happens to you, you are 100 percent responsible for your actions.


4 Fence Post of Being Response-ABLE - Image 1


When you embrace an E+R=O mindset and choose to be Response-ABLE, you take control of your life. Instead of allowing events, which are out of your control, to determine the outcomes you experience, you shape your outcomes by how your respond. You process, plan, and proceed instead of reacting immediately and emotionally.

Will you respond correctly every time? Of course not. But even then you can choose to own your response. You can accept responsibility and figure out what you to do better next time. You can learn and grow. You can become stronger and better. And as you mature, your ability to handle difficult situations will improve.

While this is happening, you'll notice something. As demonstrated in the image below, your life will start to expand. More opportunities will open up to you. New roles and responsibilities will present themselves. People will ask for your insight and opinion. Promotions and more will come your way!

All of this is because others recognize that you don't crumble when faced with a challenge. You are a person they can count on. You have character. You are trustworthy and dependable. You are Response-ABLE.



However, the exact opposite happens if you have an E=O mentality. Instead of taking control of your life, you become a victim. You allow events, which are out of your control, to determine your outcomes. You react immediately and emotionally instead of being Response-ABLE.

Additionally, instead of learning and growing, you'll deteriorate. You blame and even bulldoze other people when things don't go your way. You avoid accepting responsibility, so instead of maturing and getting better, you actually become more immature and bitter.

As demonstrated in the image below, the longer you live this way, the more your life will shrink. Opportunities will disappear. New roles and responsibilities won't present themselves. No one will care about your opinion and very little good will come your way.

All of this is because others realize you crumble when faced with a challenge. You are a person of weak character. You are neither trustworthy nor dependable.


4 Fence Post of Being Response-ABLE - Image 3


A Picture Paints 1,000 Words

The three images above have proven to be one of the simplest yet strongest tools in my leadership toolbox.

When I've explained E+R=O to team members, they get it. They understand the concept and even embrace it mentally.

However, when they see how the 4 Fence Posts of Personal Responsibility expand or contract based on which mindset they embrace…


Their head knowledge makes its way to their heart as well.

One Last Leadership Bonus

You've probably heard the saying that more is caught than taught. We see this truth play out in leadership all the time because while we can teach what we know, we only reproduce who we are. 

In other words, if we fail to demonstrate E+R=O in our own life and leadership, our teams will likely never become Response-ABLE. As Thomas J. Watson famously said, “Nothing so conclusively proves your ability to lead others as what you do from day to day to lead yourself.”

Other Posts in the E+R=O Series

This post is the second post in The E+R=O Mindset series. Other posts include:


E+R=O Mindset in Your Daily Life

Go Deeper

Let's get clear about successTrue success is not found in prosperity, power, position, prestige, privilege, or even in your level of performance. These might come about because you experience success, but they are simply manifestations of true success rather than the meaning or essence of it. In fact, what these elements usually do is amplify the character of a person which ultimately allows us to see the true nature of that person.

Success is easy as long as life goes according to plan. 

But what happens when life throws you a curveball?

It’s easy to live it forward when everything is going smoothly, but when you hit a few bumps, overcoming obstacles becomes more challenging.

Grab this FREE RESOURCE if you'd like to go deeper and discover how to live the E+R=O Mindset in your daily life.