Learning to think like a leader What is it that sets leaders apart from the crowd? What is the secret to their unbridled success? More than 3,50,000 books have been written on that mystifying factor that enables leaders to discover the best opportunities, resolve problems easily, inspire people to follow them without any force and effect positive change, thus piloting organisations to scale superlative heights. Well, simply emulating the actions and behaviours of top leaders only creates further confusion and incoherence. As Roger Martin elucidates in his Harvard Business Review article, ‘How Successful Leaders Think', “…this focus on what a leader does is misplaced. That's because moves that work in one context often make no sense in another… A more productive, though more difficult approach is to focus on how a leader thinks, i.e. to examine the antecedent of doing, or the way in which leaders' cognitive processes produce their actions.” Yes, the secret lies in the principles and attitudes that spring from the exceptional thought processes of our top leaders. They have mastered a specific type of thinking skills that radically elevate their ability to influence people and relationships, thus enabling them to turn around organisations and accelerate growth exponentially. As top executive George Ambler blogs about his insights on leadership practices, “Leadership starts with how we think and ends in the actions which arise from those thoughts!” Thought methodologies that define leaders To begin with, successful leaders have a true sense of ownership about their work, department and even organisation. Akin to entrepreneurs, they hold themselves personally responsible for business success and will do whatever they can to achieve the goals. They are more than willing to unflinchingly stand by the organisation through thick and thin. They possess a big picture mentality and tend to think in terms of organisational success, growth, mission, vision and goals. This is possible by connecting tasks and projects into a larger framework and thus providing a sense of purpose and meaning to work. Leaders seek to build relationships wherever they go. This can be a smile, a shared joke or more serious interactions like airing ideas, seeking suggestions, discussing others' problems or deliberating over long-term aspirations. Apart from this, leaders are precise, focussed and creative in their thinking. They clearly understand problems as they are without any exaggerations or disappointment. For instance, when confronted with a crisis, first of all they will term it not as a problem but an interesting situation that they will resolve by finding an effective solution. By perceiving beyond the obvious/prominent features and thinking in a multi-directional, non-linear format, they can clearly see how the different parts fit together in the whole and thus generate creative alternatives. Even when something doesn't work or they make a mistake, they persevere and learn from the experience. It cannot go unmentioned that successful leaders wisely tap into the infinite power of thinking. They consciously set time aside to do nothing but think deeply – meaningful reflection to clarify their purpose and direction. This enables them to form priorities and make prudent choices that ultimately set the right tone for others. Mr. Roger Martin elaborates that leaders are integrative thinkers as they can “Hold in their heads two opposing ideas at once and then come up with a new idea that contains elements of each but is superior to both…This process of consideration and synthesis (rather than superior strategy or faultless execution) is the hallmark of exceptional businesses and the people who run them!” True leaders also willingly invest time and energy in building the bench strength by mentoring, motivating and helping people grow. They do not hesitate to find, cultivate and hone top talent by showing them how to learn to think like leaders. This practice not only brings out the best in the mentees but by articulating their own thinking, leaders can also identify gaps and assumptions that would otherwise be overlooked! Honing your thought processes While it is obvious that the crucial difference between successful leaders and ordinary mortals lies in nothing but the perspective, another fact is that others too can better manage their thoughts to emerge as better leaders! Clarify your thought patterns by following the above broad guidelines and you will never feel overwhelmed by problems, obstacles or limitations again. Else, approach a mentor or a peer learning group so that you can gain insight into the dominant thoughts that underpin their effective actions and then adapt and use them accordingly. Thinking and behaving in this new way will surely transform you into a visionary, innovative, influential and effective leader. Afterall, leadership is nothing but an approach that reflects your thinking!