What Were You Thinking?
Many of us may have heard this from a parent or even a boss. As we mature, our thinking changes – or at least it should. The same holds true for those who advance up the professional ladder. Of course, the objective is for us to be as mature a thinker as possible at any given age or stage in our careers. However, there is an art and a science to leadership thinking.
Thinking like a leader involves more than just the difference between strategic and non-strategic thinking. There are several layers, if you will, that build on having the ability to think in leadership thought patterns. I call them thought patterns as we all have established patterns in our lives from which we tend to operate on a daily basis. Some of us have the pattern of the Drama Queen Pattern, where everything is a four-alarm fire. Some of us have the Ostrich Pattern where we ignore, run, or hide from thinking about and facing challenges. There’s the Ignoring Pattern where we think that if we just ignore it, the challenge will soon go away. Finally, there’s the Blaming Pattern where we blame others for things that do or do not happen. Leaders do not operate – or think – from any of these foundations.
When you think like a leader, you build on patterns that you develop throughout your life. Some of those patterns are below.
- Know Thyself. One of the most basic thinking patterns is knowing yourself. The Drama Queen may have thinking patterns that swing from I’m just awful and worthless to I’m the best there is and no one can do better than me. However, someone who truly knows him/herself understands that everyone has a mix of strengths and weaknesses. The leader like thinker can objectively acknowledge these. Good leaders surrounds themselves with those who have the strengths they lack. The ego is in check and there is no jealousy toward those with the strengths the leader requires to obtain goals for the organization – admiration, yes – destructive envy – no. So if you were thinking that understanding your behavioral and communion style is unimportant – think again.
- Think Differently. This has been the battle cry for Apple. It goes back to the old adage, if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. Thinking differently may not come easily, but can be mastered with practice. Good leaders brainstorm with a variety of people. Thought leaders are not afraid to entertain ideas from different sources then to take those ideas and mix and match them, compare them to the norm, and produce new products and services. So if you were thinking in the same old way as usual, stop, and think differently.
- It’s Not About You. Leaders never stop self-development and remain continuous learners throughout their lives. Leadership, on the other hand, is also about them. The them, are the members of your staff whom you wish to develop. The smart leader thinks about other people’s development. This is a good investment in your staff, the company, and in yourself. People don’t want to leave leaders who care about their futures. So if you were thinking only about yourself, think again.
- Paradigm Thinking. Change is the only constant. When change hits organiztions, it can be disastrous. Change will always bring upheaval, but it doesn’t have to bring disaster. Successful leaders think in terms of paradigm shifts. Organizations must be prepared to shift paradigms sometimes at a moment’s notice. The economy, market whimsies, and generational changes are just a few of the forces that can cause change to become a do or die situation. Leaders must know which paradigm shift to engage. But more importantly, that same leader must understand how to bring the troops along for the ride. People resist change, but the paradigm thinker understands the scary parts and helps his/her team keep the change boogie man at bay. So if you were thinking that changes will take of themselves, think again.
- Critical Thinking. Critical thinking has been a focus since ancient times and is subject to many definitions. Often people do not realize that critical thinking involves both logic and creativity. Critical thinking may be akin to strategic thinking, but it goes beyond that. A popular model for critical thinking is by Richard Paul, called the Paulian approach to critical thinking. This model consists of eight elements of thought. This model and additional information about critical thinking can be found at http://www.criticalthinking.org// . Thinking critically involves analyzing, evaluating, application, behaviors, and the ability to discern fallacy from fact. So if you were thinking that using strategy and planning are enough to guide your organization to success, think again.
While this may seem to be a bit overwhelming, each stage of thinking can be learned and cultivated. Organiztions today require people who are good thinkers, so the sooner you begin to learn better thinking strategies the better. Will it be easy? Probably not, as with any learning experience mistakes will be made and patience will go into overdrive. Did you really have the idea that it would be any different or that being a leader is easy? What were you thinking?
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