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How to deal with a scarcity mentality in the workplace

In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John C. Maxwell speaks about The Law of the Mirror. This law asserts that your team will mirror your attitudes and behaviours. In other words, people do what they see, which is why your influence on your team is extremely important. The mindset you model is the mindset your team will also exude. That said, you get to set the tone for your organization.

The question is: what does that tone look like? Some leaders report that their teams seem pessimistic at times, uncooperative with each other, and negatively competitive, as if they’re fighting for available resources even if there’s an abundance of said resources.


It’s more commonly referred to as a ‘scarcity mentality’ in the workplace.

In fact, author Stephen Covey explains the concept in his bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He writes:

“Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.

“The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life. People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit—even with those who help in the production. They also have a hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people.”

“The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth or security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in the sharing of prestige, recognition, profits and decision-making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives and creativity.”


A scarcity mentality can easily creep into any workplace, and it can have damaging effects. John C. Maxwell says, “When resources (money, opportunity, recognition) are perceived to be limited, paranoia, fear and politics thrive. In this environment, people become nervous and afraid to make a mistake. As a result, teamwork and innovation suffer.

“Effective leaders, on the other hand, develop and model an abundance mindset. By doing so, they create an environment where they can positively influence their team—and where their employees can thrive.”


How can you model an abundance mindset for the benefit of your employees? It’s simpler than you think. Here are 4 easy strategies:

  • Encourage ‘glass-is-half-full’ thinking. Again, you set the tone for the mentality of your team. Part of an abundance mindset is focusing on the positive, and so it’s important that you foster an environment where team members aren’t put down but made to feel as if their ideas are valued.
  • Show recognition and appreciation. Employees want to feel validated for their contribution to a company or organisation. They want to feel that their work matters. When you demonstrate that you value your team’s work, their happiness will increase, making for a more positive work environment and allowing them to feel as if there’s no need for competition with their peers.
  • See obstacles as opportunities. This goes hand in hand with the ‘glass-is-half-full’ thinking, but takes it a step further. Any time your team is faced with an obstacle, flip it around and consider it an opportunity instead. In other words, face the challenge with optimism. What is there to learn from the challenge? How can your team thrive from it? What lessons can they take away?
  • Remind your team that everyone is needed. If you’re looking to break a negative competitive vibe in your environment, you need only remind your team members that everyone’s skills and talents are needed. This allows each employee to relax instead of constantly being anxious. Take time out to acknowledge each individual as well, and emphasize that you see their contribution and are appreciative of it.


Is a scarcity mentality running its course in your workplace? Use the strategies above to help do damage control and replace it with a mentality of abundance. When you do, your team will thrive, and your employees will feel happier and confident with their place in your organisation.

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