The three priorities of leadership are thinking, deciding, and communicating. Let’s focus on leadership thinking. People are not born good thinkers, but taught and trained. My observation is that the primary limitations leaders need to work on are (1) getting rid of distractions, and (2) developing habits that promote good thinking. It is possible to develop more powerful thinking practices and models, but only after we’ve established basic practices.
Consider this: You can’t make yourself go to sleep, but you can put yourself in an environment where you’re more likely to sleep well. Likewise, the first step is to adjust your environment and your habits so that better thinking is possible. You can build habits that steer you away from situations where clear thinking is more difficult.
Here are six suggested practices:
Exercise. Everything you can do to improve blood flow to the brain will sharpen your ability to think. Your brain only weighs about 3 pounds but it burns ~20% of the glucose in your system and therefore consumes ~20% of the oxygen you breathe in. Move more; incorporate walking breaks in your day, or bang out a few pushups every few hours.
Get away from screens. TV, computer, phone. Most of that input is cluttering and making it harder to see connections and gain insights. Organize a part of your work space that is screen-free for creating ideas, shaping plans, and focusing on a problem you need to solve.
Intentionally do something different. Take a different route to work. Use a different pen. Read a book backward. Eat something different for breakfast. Change it up. This gets us out of mindless patterns and provokes us to be more conscious of our experiences.
Spend more time with smart and wise people. You and I are more influenced by the people around us than we like to admit. Don’t ignore old wisdom as if you’re the first to think about a problem or situation. Study and observe how the smartest people around you ask questions, explore ideas, and have conversations.
Devote half of your reading to things outside of your “work” expertise. Intentionally explore new areas as part of your learning plan. Read widely. Listen to a podcast focused on a completely different discipline. Many insights and breakthroughs result from applying something from one discipline to another. Sow, Water, Fertilize, Harvest…and repeat.
Practice the “other” viewpoint. Take a cherished assumption – and then work to be able to articulate the perspective of someone who does not share that cherished assumption. Skilled leadership communication often begins by working through another perspective, and only then guiding someone to see why you are taking a course of action.
Boldness in these practices will result in better leadership thinking.