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What do leaders and prisoners have in common?

Written by Kala Philip – General Manager – BSI learning 

The mindset of leaders in an organisation will determine their performance and success more than their skill set, according to research undertaken by Professor Michael E. Bernard, of The Bernard Group. The best illustration of these findings is the work BSI Learning has been conducting with prisoners in Northern Queensland to put an end to recidivism. BSI Learning has not only been developing the skills of prisoners to make them employable, but to provide them with the skills and support to change their life on the outside. Their framework, which has been in place and successfully working since the mid 2000’s supports the research findings of The Bernard Group regarding the high performance mindset.

The BSI Learning program resulted in 25.7% of participants finding a job after release and 17.9% of them retaining employment. The framework to achieve this change focused on the mindset of individual prisoners by addressing the following factors:

  • Mentality – Prisoners with a welfare-dependant mentality need to appreciate the reasons for gaining employment and becoming contributing members of society.
  • Accountability – Prisoners need to become more accountable for their actions and how it impacts their families as well as their victims.
  • Culture – Prisoners from a drug and alcohol culture, need to change their behaviour and their social environment.
  • Conflict – Prisoners who resort to violence when they are in a difficult situation, require strategies and coping mechanisms to control their actions.
  • Resilience – Gaining employment in a new career may not always be easy, therefore they need the skills to deal with rejection and to continue on their journey towards gainful employment.
  • Career – Criminals cannot always return to their previous career, such as white-collar criminals imprisoned due to accounting fraud. They require new skills to support a change in career.
  • Criminal History – Not only is it difficult to find employment with a criminal record, the type of history will impact the type of employment. For instance, prisoners on parole for alcohol related crimes are not allowed to work in the kitchens of licensed premises.
  • Identifying employment opportunities – Prisoners returning to high-unemployment local areas, need to have the skills and network to identify employment opportunities nearest to them.


The framework and support provided by BSI Learning are analogous to Professor Bernard’s definition of a high performance mindset. His definition includes three commitments to:

  1. Success
  2. Others
  3. Self


 And five behavioural strengths:

  1. Self management/resilience
  2. Confidence/optimism
  3. Persistence/motivation
  4. Organisation
  5. Getting along/collaboration


Prisoners can only change their lives when they have the same commitments and behavioural strengths as leaders with a high performance mindset.

 HR’s approach to learning and development needs to start with the mindset of their leaders. Once a high performance mindset is established, it enhances development programs designed to build the strengths and skills organisation wide.

Posted on May 27, 2017

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