Several years ago, I taught a lesson titled, “How Leaders
Think.” Like a lot of my older lessons, there is plenty about the content that
I would have to change if I were to present it today—after all, I’ve grown over
the years, and what I think about thinking has changed quite a bit.
But as I thought about this week’s blog, I couldn’t help but
pull out my old notes. Leadership requires constant thought; if you’re not
thinking about a problem, then you’re thinking about your people, or thinking
The mind of a leader is in near-constant motion.
What every leader needs to consider, is whether or not that
motion is producing something worthwhile. After all, activity doesn’t equal
accomplishment—especially in your thinking.
So how do you think like a leader?
Leaders Think Big
Nothing hurts a
leader like small thinking. When you’re at the top of the decision ladder,
you need to bring your A-game to every situation. Pushing the envelope with
creativity and vision is essential for a leader.
The reason is simple: everyone else will try and talk your
ideas down. And that’s good—you need people on your team who will challenge you
and reign you in. But that means it’s your job to think big so that the ideas
you settle on aren’t too small.
Big thinking isn’t reckless thinking either. It’s just big.
You are responsible for the big picture, and big picture thinking by nature
cannot be small—otherwise, we’d call it small picture thinking. Reality still
must come into play, but that doesn’t mean you can’t define a new, larger
reality to chase.
Leaders Think Others First
Say it with me:
leadership is about serving others. That means leaders should make other
people a priority in their thinking.
Leaders want more for others, even before they know to want
it themselves. Leaders see more than others, not just in terms of strategy and
vision, but in terms of seeing potential and talent in the people around you.
So, it’s only natural that leaders think more and before others—and think a lot about those others in the process.
You should be thinking about how to grow your people and
encourage them to grow themselves.
You should be thinking about which people have leadership
potential and how you can develop that within your organization.
You should be thinking about which people solve problems,
take initiative, and add value to the mission so you can move faster, go
farther, and do more.
And you should be thinking about other ways you can add
value to people as their leader. Because
without other people, you’re not a leader—you’re just a person with a mission
looking for a team.
Leaders Think with Focus
The last thing I want to say about thinking like a leader is
that leadership thinking requires focus. That’s because a leader rarely has two
consecutive good days on the job, which means a leader has to be intentional about thinking and be intentional while thinking.
Intentionality about thinking is a matter of schedule
and priority. If you make thinking a priority (and you should), then
putting time on your calendar for thinking is the next natural step. I recommend
leaders have a dedicated thinking place and a dedicated thinking time—and stick
to both. Too often leaders aren’t intentional about their thinking, and the end
thinking is a matter of consistency. It means eliminating excuses and
distractions. I have a lot of young leaders on my teams, and it’s not uncommon
for them to lament on the amount of overwhelm they experience—and not just
because we keep them busy!
Every leader knows what it means to be overwhelmed—to have
more problems or possibilities than you know how to handle. Overwhelm is
normal, and intentional thinking is the best antidote. Nothing combats too many
ideas like focusing on one or two, just like nothing destroys a creative block
like jotting down as many ideas as possible.
Thinking is rarely a
one-way street. Just like healthy eating and exercise are the surest—and
least used—methods for losing weight, setting aside time to think and actually
thinking are the best way to combat overwhelm.
That type of thinking is so crucial, I wrote the book How Successful People Think. I wanted leaders to have a practical guide to different (and essential) types and styles of thinking. It’s also why my team is developing a new Mentor’s Guide to Focused Thinking. We want to help leaders think like leaders!
My thinking about thinking may have changed over the years, but one thing remains the same: I spend time thinking!
And so should you.
Thinking is how leaders—good leaders—take their people to the top.
John Maxwell Leadership Podcast