‘Thinking like a leader’ will help you grow
Celebrated B schools like Harvard Business School, prime its students to think like leaders from the very beginning. Susan Cain mentions in her book ‘Quiet’ that professors at HBS, review real-life business case studies with students through questions like “If you were the protagonist (most often the CEO of the case study), what would you do?”. It is implied that the participant student at HBS will become the leader in the workplace. With such thinking imbued, it is no surprise that HBS has contributed to a huge number of successful leader’s world over. We can create this self-fulfilling prophecy for ourselves, by developing the habit of ‘thinking like a leader’. Such thinking not only helps one get perceived as a ‘potential leader’ at the workplace but also helps mature the thought processes in a broader sense.
Ineffable social interactions warrant mature thinking and tactful handling of situations, that leaders are adept at managing. Tyler Cowen in his thought-provoking book ‘Average Is Over’ shares that “ Workers are more capable of doing damage to a firm than in times past, so companies are often getting choosier whom they hire. It is easier to destroy than create, and the more valuable and the more precision based that firms become, the more they will worry about destruction of value coming from workers.” In this context, to handle employees tactfully in any organization, mature thinking, and leadership skills are important at all levels.
Shreeram Varahan (Head HR — India and Global Operations Centers, Thomson Reuters) is the veritable epitome of a young, dynamic, ‘go-getter’ HR leader of a large global organization. One of the most sought-after leaders to work for, Shreeram has guided several of his team members through their careers to develop the habit of thinking of the larger picture, to work towards developing genuine long-lasting relationships with stakeholders and to expand their thinking by reading more.
Shreeram shares that “Employees adopting the practice of ‘thinking like a leader’ becomes very important for an organization to be successful. Such employees are not just valuable but are true champions for their organization’. He adds “I strongly believe that each one of us should be a leader. At times, the perception is that senior people are leaders whereas I firmly believe that every individual is a leader and they need to function and operate as one. Now the principle question is ‘who is a leader’ — in simple terms, I believe it is someone who keeps the focus on the mission and the larger objective, sets right goals for self: in line with the overall objectives, coaches the team or peers, deals with complexity, adopts an approach to change, learn, finally adapts and ensures he/she evolves with a diverse mindset. We all need to operate as leaders and that means we need to have a) clarity b) decisiveness c) courage d) passion and most importantly e) humility”.
A few ways to develop the art of ‘thinking like a leader’:
- For a mental pivot, pick a leader you admire and observe the way he/she handles tricky situations. When faced with a challenge at work, put yourself in the leader’s shoes and imagine how this venerable leader would have resolved it. Picture the final responsibility to get the work done landing at your desk. Examine the problem and possible solutions, each along with its implications from all angles. Do all that it takes, to get the job done rather than pass the buck.
- Zealously, practice the art of ‘genuinely getting along with people’ to ensure work gets achieved. Make it a point to overcome pettiness at the workplace and ignore the smaller foibles of human nature.
- While it sounds passé to read self-help material, books like ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie contains timeless wisdom for corporate life.
- If you are working under an immature boss who is not able to inspire you with his/her leadership style, be on the lookout for additional projects that come up under excellent leaders. It would certainly be worth the stretch if volunteering for such additional projects provides an opportunity to learn how a respected leader thinks and behaves.
- We can also learn from successful business leaders’ extensive reading habits. Wide reading habits lend itself to fine tuning the mind to think at a level higher than what a normal person is capable of, and helps connect the dots of the larger picture. It is unsurprising then, that successful leaders are able to generate valuable ideas themselves or are able to identify and nurture those who do.
When one begins to think like a leader — at a level ahead, the transformation is perceived by colleagues and bosses. Co-workers will start looking up to such a person, as someone with leadership potential, who can steer the team and company forward. A team member displaying his or her potential for ‘thinking like a leader’ is easy to spot, even in a large team. Such team members are likely to be sought after, by bosses everywhere.
Orienting our thinking this way, helps us resolve challenges with verve and also raises the bar we set for ourselves for getting things done at the workplace.