Learn to think like the smartest business leaders in the world | Blog | MFL

Learn to think like the smartest business leaders in the world

When we read stories of some of the world’s top achievers or hear from the world’s best innovators, it can feel as if they see the world differently to the rest of us. It’s no surprise to discover that most of them have actually worked deliberately to cultivate this as an ability.

Over the years, the team at TomorrowToday have engaged with some really great and smart leaders, and have also worked with some of the world’s leading leadership experts who have done formal and extensive studies of the world’s best leaders.

We believe that there are 5 important ways that the best leaders THINK that is different from the rest of us. We should all learn these and do them ourselves:

1. Think in Frameworks

The difference between great and ordinary thinkers is that for ordinary thinkers the process of using models is unconscious and reactive. For great thinkers it is conscious, deliberate and proactive. Great thinkers think about their thinking.

The world’s top achievers collect the most effective mental models from across all disciplines. They test these models out and internalise them so they always have them available, and they apply them in their daily lives.

Great thinkers, good leaders and top achievers work hard to find, evaluate and assimilate as many different frameworks or mental models as possible. We all know a few already, I am sure: the 80/20 principle (for prioritisation), introverts vs extroverts (to explain personality and where people get their energy from), the scientific method of controlled experiments (so we don’t rely on dodgy evidence), crowdsourcing (an updated version of brainstorming, to find ways to hear more opinions) and social proof (the new way people seek to verify their decision making), etc.

What should you do?

Aim to add one new mental model to your toolkit each week for a month. Choose one, study it and then practice applying it.

2. Be curious, read widely and seek out differences of opinion

Not every leader is good at this, but most of the truly great leaders we’ve met are. These days, great leaders ask great questions. It used to be that the task of the leader was to have the answers to questions, but in a world that’s changing as much as ours is right now, this is no longer a defining feature of a top achiever.

Instead, we need people who are good at asking the right questions. We need to develop the habit of asking probing, insightful questions that cause others to pause and think. We need to ask ourselves questions that invite reflection, interrogation and fan the flames of genuine curiosity.

What should you do?

Start each week with a key question that will guide your week, and ask that question at least three times per day each day. My favourite question is “Why do we do it THIS way?”. You could also try: “How is this growing me?”, “What’s the bigger picture?”, “Is there a better way?” or any number of other provocative questions.

Take time out each week to decide to investigate something you don’t understand or don’t know enough about. Actively develop your curiosity and allocate time in your diary to allow your curiosity to guide your reading and interactions with others.

3. Know the limits of your abilities, and build a team around you to ensure there are no weak areas

Strengths-based development has been the revolution of the past two decades, and it works. Focus on your strengths: identify them, build on them, develop them. And then compensate for your weaknesses by building a good team around you.

What should you do?

If you haven’t done so yet, read Markus Buckingham’s “Now Discover Your Strengths” or “Strengthsfinder 2.0” by Tom Rath. Identify your strengths and the strengths of your closest colleagues and team members.

Discuss these profiles with each other, and know where one person will be strong, and others weak. A team is not just “there for each other” – a good team knows which team members do what tasks best. Work on this together.

4. Hold paradoxes in tension

The world’s top achievers don’t see the world in black and white – they are very good at seeing the shades of grey in between. They are able to recognise that there are many different ways of looking at every issue, and don’t need everything to fit into neat little boxes. They are even prepared to hold competing and conflicting ideas in their heads (at least for a time), while they wait for new information and clarity to emerge.

What should you do?

This is a hugely difficult skill to learn. It involves not just mental ability, but also the development of EQ and social intelligence. And, most of all, it requires the taming of the ego.

We can recommend one activity to you: take a topic that you are fairly knowledgeable or opinionated about and seek out someone who holds a different view to yours; then, take the time to ask them explanatory questions (as opposed to interrogative or gotcha questions) that will enable them to explain their view to you.

Do not attempt to change their view, attempt only to understand it. Then, armed with this knowledge, find someone who shares the same viewpoint as you, and try to change their mind by arguing the opposite of what you actually believe.

5. Be very clear about what levers need to be pulled

The best leaders and top achievers that we know are laser-focused, and they do this by clearing out the things that don’t really make a difference – they clear them out their minds and out of the schedules. They get rid of clutter and focus the majority of their time, attention and resources on just a few things that will make all the difference in the future.

Knowing what those things are is part of the key to being a great leader, and we haven’t found any magic formula for working out what is really important. But it does seem that this is a question great leaders ask themselves: “is what I am about to do really going to make a difference”? If the answer is “no” then they invariably don’t do it.

Of course, it’s the luxury of being in leadership that you can delegate tasks to others, but this ability to do the most important work first, and to know what the most important work actually is, is what separates the great leaders and achievers from the merely good ones.

What should you do?

Don’t just have a “to do” list. Also keep a “not to do” list. These are activities, issues or even relationships that you’re in the process of removing from your life.

Be more conscious of all your activities, interactions and relationships in the next two weeks. After each one, do a quick assessment of whether they are (a) important, (b) maintenance jobs that just have to be done, or (c) not important at all. See what you can do to get rid of at least one item from the third category each month for the rest of this year

‘Creativity and Intuition’ is just one of the 8 skills that our team have identified as the essential skills required for success in the future of work. Together with the Future of Work Academy that offers individuals and teams access to continuous learning & development via our online lessons and courses for all 8 of these skills, our team has also just finalised a keynote presentation (that can also be run as a half day or full day workshop) that addresses these 8 skills.

This is a great starting point for any organisation wanting to help prepare their people and teams for the future of work! It’s practical, challenging and provides great insights gained from years of research and working with clients around the world.

Article written by TomorrowToday – Graeme Codrington and Dean van Leeuwen

If you are interested in the keynote presentation or online lessons and courses, do get in touch