Learning to Think Like a Leader – Part 2


Have you played baseball or softball much of your life? Perhaps you’ve been a lifelong hockey player. Many people have been runners, joggers, and exercise walkers much of their lives. I’ve pursued several sports over my life, but biking has been one constant over all the years. Whatever your activity (and if you’re a leader you must have regular physical activity), you know that it comes quite naturally. You don’t have to think about it. You just do it. Picking up a ball and batting it across the yard is as natural as getting dressed in the morning. Lacing up skates and swooshing across the ice is as easy as walking to get the mail. For me, navigating my bike on trails and roads in almost any kind of weather is an automatic, almost mindless endeavor. Should leading be so effortless? No.

Last week, in Part 1 of this two-part series, I introduced the idea that effective leaders put effort into thinking like a leader. While there are certainly some aspects of leadership that come naturally to different individuals, the most effective leaders are intentional in their approach to and thinking about leading. To illustrate the point, last week I linked to an amazing and entertaining YouTube video about a man whose bike handlebars work backwards. Go check it out!

So what does it mean to “think like a leader”? In Part 1, I presented the first three of seven “principles for advancing a leadershp mindset.” Vince Miller, founder and president of Resolute wrote these principles, and here are the remaining four principles, along with a few of my own thoughts for each.

Divide the subject into parts. Divide and conquer. In this way you can consider the parts separately, which will help you to better understand the whole. Coaches use this pedagogy often referred to as “whole-part-whole” instruction.

Leading is often complex. The challenges you face are rarely about one thing. If you do have a simple challenge, it is brought to you by people who are themselves complex. It is critical that you take time to consider the parts and how they relate. This is a core principle of systems thinking. Jesus always had a very clear understanding of the parts of an argument or accusation being made against him. He also understood the component parts of challenges in the lives of those he ministered to and taught. Finally, he understood how all the parts related to one another. Whole-part-whole.

Define terms. Make sure to define concepts or words that are obscure.

We’ve all had the experience of making it several minutes into a discussion only to realize that you and the other person have a significantly different understanding of a key term or concept. Until this point, you were frustrated that you couldn’t seem to get through to the other person. At the moment of realization, the importance of clarity became evident and you were able to successfully refocus the dialogue. Study Jesus’ dialogues with the Scribes, Pharisees, Disciples, and others. You’ll see He was masterful at bringing clarity to issues. As a leader, you, too, need to know how to seek and establish clarity.

Never assume. Assumptions are the enemy of change in thinking and action. Reveal assumptions and address them as they arise.

This is similar to defining terms, but here the clarity is not about terms and concepts, but rather about values, beliefs, and previous experience. Assumptions are weak mental constructs that sit upon values, beliefs, and experiences. To the degree that you rely on assumptions in the face of change and action, you will experience frustration with the lack of progress. Just as Jesus was a master at bringing clarity to terms and concepts, he was masterful at helping others see their own assumptions. (Note that Jesus never once held an assumption. He has perfect and complete knowledge.)

Be complete not fast. Thinking too quickly is the enemy of complete thinking.

Among the seven, this principle might be the most often violated. Leaders are good at what they do. When you get good at something, you think more automatically—and faster. This may work sometimes. It may even be helpful sometimes. Not most of the time. Slow down. Be intentional. Review these seven principles and process your challenge through each. Then consider what action you might take. Most of the time, slower is better. Can you identify a time when Jesus was in a hurry? One? Nope. Never once did he rush his thinking and decision making.

For your convenience here are the first three of Vince Miller’s seven principles. (But read last week’s post to see my discussion of the first three principles.)

Be attentive. Give 100% attention to immediate tasks. Ensure that you are focused and purposeful. Apply your mind to one thing at a time, and when it begins to wander, exert focus to bring it back. Secure distinct ideas about what you see or hear.

Seek out truth. Find evidence that supports God’s truth from the propositions being set out. Settle only for the truth and ask the obvious question that is not being asked.

Start with the simple in complex matters. Start with simple ideas and then work toward the complex. This is just like starting at the beginning of the instructions when assembling a product. Think backwards to purpose and forward to the implications.

Learning to think like a leader is a difficult endeavor, but here is the irony: Leading is already hard work. Working hard at thinking like a leader will make leading easier.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Photo by Mikael Kristenson. Photo available at Unsplash under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

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