How Leaders Think

First a couple of qualifiers: not all leaders think the same and not all leaders are always thinking about the things discussed in this post. But generally speaking, all successful leaders think in these terms and while they have many other thoughts, at one time or another these things are top of mind. So here we go….

Great leaders focus on the mission. Leaders are frequently pulled toward unusual and urgent events that force them in different directions. While these often require the attention of the leader they don’t lose sight of the higher intent of the organization. When the challenge has been dealt with they return their focus to the mission and purpose of the organization. They know where they need to go and they have an actionable plan to get there. They think mission first!

Great leaders are great coaches. They actively look for opportunities to coach their people with the goal of growing more leaders. They coach for corrective action and they coach for positive reinforcement. They delegate to grow their people knowing full well that mistakes might be made. Great leaders also know that those mistakes provide highly valued learning opportunities. Great leaders think coaching, coaching, coaching. 

Great leaders are great examples. They know that people will do what they see their leaders doing. They know that they are the example of successful behavior for their people. They understand that they set the example of good character, knowing their job and doing what matters. They preform as they would have their people perform and they do not expect more from their people then they expect of themselves. Great leaders know the way, go the way and lead the way. Great leaders think in terms of setting an example as much or more than they think of anything else.

Great leaders value and leverage diversity. They know that true diversity goes beyond Equal Employment and Affirmative Action laws. True diversity is understanding, valuing, and leveraging the differences in every person. They seek out differing opinions from people with different backgrounds and demonstrate that people are valued for their uniqueness. Great leaders know that to continue their personal growth they must interact with people who have opinions different from their own and who feel empowered to express them. Great leaders think about broadening the diversity of their organizations. 

Great leaders accept risk. They accept well considered, well calculated risks. They don’t act with reckless abandon, they gather facts, they measure, they ask for advice and then they decide. They decide. They decide, that means that they make a decision. Great leaders know that all the facts, all the advice and all the opinions in the world don’t amount to much if a decision is never made. They think risk and they think about when and why to take them.

The simple truth is that leaders think differently than followers. Leaders see a bigger picture and they see farther into the future. Leadership is as much about mindset as it is anything, if you want to lead then start thinking (and acting) like a leader. 

7 thoughts on “How Leaders Think

  1. I come from a military back ground in regards to your example of Great Leaders being a great example. We called that Leading from the Front. The troops or employees respond better when your down in the trenches with them. Seeing what they are seeing, experiencing what they do. There is a Maxium I have tried to teach people “Thou shall not do anything I have not done or am unwilling to do myself. I also tell people to give credit where it’s due but when you make a mistake own it and learn from it. I also feel leaders should know the jobs of the people they are in charge of better than the troops themselves. That way not only can they trouble shoot a problem that say a new person has come across but be able to fully instruct the person in the correct procedure for the future. Far too offen I have seen supposed leaders shrug their shoulders in that scenario and walk away and tell the employee to figure it out. That is neither management nor leadership, as anyone can tell you the two are not necessarily the same thing or person.

    1. Thanks Chris, you sound like a leader. I agree with your comments 100%, when we ask our people to do what we can’t or won’t do we set them up for failure.

      Leaders, true leaders set their people up for success, not failure!

  2. Interesting post Steve. One of the most effective methods I’ve found as a leader is to instil trust in your team. I allocate tasks and trust members of my team to simply get things done, giving them the tools, space and freedom to manage their workload. Checking back periodically I’m able to see how they’re coping with the level of autonomy and identify opportunities for coaching. As you’ve mentioned, coaching is an integral part of leadership and a powerful tool for building both engagement and tomorrow’s leaders.

    Once I’ve identified skill gaps or areas for development, I put in place a structured coaching plan to deal with each one and share this with the individual so that they can see a roadmap for their development. The plan may include specific exercises or tasks that test progress so that we can see what is effective and also refine the areas to focus on in their one-on-one coaching sessions.

    1. Wow, you sound like a true leader. I’m certain your people recognize that and appreciate your efforts. You’re likely building more leaders along the way too.

      We need more people like you!

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