Learning to think like a leader

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