Ever heard of mentalization? Well, maybe it´s a word you need to get acquainted with because the ability to mentalize might be the key to retain and grow talent at the workplace.


Maria Ebro Andreasen

Mentalization is the ability to understand mental states such as emotions, thoughts, intentions, wishes and needs in yourself and in others. As a leader these skills are crucial if you wish to create a psychologically safe environment for your employees where they themselves can mentalize and grow their talent.

With the war for talent (1) growing even more fierce post-pandemic, and with 85% of the typical workforce feeling disengaged (2)  – the question of how to retain and especially grow talent has become more relevant than ever.

But what is talent? How do we work to become even more talented? How do leaders retain talented employees? – after 10 years of research and working with these questions, I strongly believe it all links to the ability to mentalize.

10 years ago, I had the privilege to create, run and simultaneously study a year-long talent program in a fortune 500 company. The question I had set out to answer was: What do these talented people have in common? And how to grow that (whatever that common capability was) even more?

The result: They all had different stories, different subject matter expertise, different upbringings under different parenting styles, different managers in their youth, different roles in the current company – but… they did have 1 thing in common; they were all very skilled in the ability to mentalize!

With literature stating that mentalization is primarily developed between the age of 3-5, I then sat out to investigate how to grow mentalization in the workplace. Working with talent development further in different large-scale companies, working with leadership development, executive coaching and later consulting, I have had the pleasure to continue studying this challenge and learn more every year. So, what have I learned so far?

1.     All the great leaders and talented people I have worked with and had at the talent programs were highly skilled within mentalization

2.     People capable of mentalizing has a stronger ability to also grow that capability in others (Mentalization breeds mentalization).

3.     The ability to mentalize can be grown and further developed in the workplace, though a series of exercises and reflections

4.     Companies that work actively with growing inter-human capabilities such as mentalization benefits from having more collaborative workforce that better understands each other’s actions and goals, and work collaboratively to achieve them.

5.     Leaders that are great at mentalizing not only grow that skill in their employees but has a better change at retaining their workforce.

In my article “Why Great Leaders Mentalize”, you can read more about what mentalization actually is and also get a few exercises that you can start using already now, to start working with mentalization in your organization.

Read the article here: Why Great Leaders Mentalize