Leadership Mindset: Think Your Way to the Top

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Magic of Thinking Big" by David J. Schwartz. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you believe you have what it takes to lead others? What do you think distinguishes a leader from a regular person? Can anyone develop a leadership mindset?

Inherent leaders understand that leadership starts with a mindset. If you don’t think of yourself as a leader, no one will treat you that way.

Here are four ways leaders think differently than a regular person.

The Mind of a Leader

Success and the ability to lead others go hand in hand. You don’t find success alone; rather, the support of others helps lift you to success. 

When you master these four principles of a leadership mindset, people will respond to you as a leader and support your ideas.

  1. Put yourself in the minds of the people you’re leading.
  2. Think about the “human way” to handle a situation.
  3. Set an example of making progress.
  4. Take time for yourself to think.

1) Put Yourself in the Minds of the People You’re Leading

If you want to gather the support of others, you must look at the world through their eyes. Ask yourself, “What would I think of this situation if I were the other person?” Consider what other people care about. This will give you the key to convincing them.

  • Example: An advertising executive is creating a children’s shoe commercial. He includes his favorite type of music and upscale imagery. But parents are unimpressed. These commercials don’t appeal to their kids or to them. Had Ted put himself in the minds of his target audience, he would have created a clearer, catchier commercial that showcased the shoes.
  • Example: Politicians often fail to connect with voters because they don’t take the time to understand the issues dear to voters’ hearts. They appear “out of touch” to the constituents. If their opponent speaks to those interests, she has a much better chance of being elected. 

Consider these situations of seeing through the eyes of people you want to influence. 

  • If you’re training a new employee, put yourself in their position. Are you being clear and concise, or are you unfairly expecting them to know too much? 
  • If you’re giving orders, think about how you would like hearing those orders.
  • If you’re giving a speech, think about your audience’s interests.
  • If you’re throwing a party, think about the music and food your guests would like.

Constantly ask yourself, “If I were the other person, how would I react to this situation?” Then take the course of action that would connect with you if you were the other person.

2) Think About the “Human” Way to Handle a Situation

There are several types of leaders. 

  • Dictators: There’s no discussion; it’s your way or the highway. Dictators don’t tend to last long, as followers inevitably resent them.
  • “By the books” leaders: You follow procedures and punish people for falling out of line. These don’t inspire loyalty because people don’t appreciate being treated like machines, with little room for nuance or individuality.
  • “Be human” leaders: These leaders are the most successful because they treat others with basic human decency. In dozens of small ways, this leader tells others that they are important. These small, human interactions create loyalty and support, as well as a positive atmosphere with good morale. A human leader:
    • Remembers her employees’ birthdays and sets up small office parties. 
    • Offers assistance if an employee had an illness in the family.
    • Helps a new employee transfer in from another city, find housing, and offer advice about schools. 
    • Helps a struggling employee find a more suitable job. 

In any difficult situation, ask yourself, “What is the human way to handle this?” 

  • If there is an employee who must be reprimanded, speak to her privately; point out the positive things she is  doing; bring up the behavior that needs changing, along with constructive ways to accomplish this; and then praise her for her good traits once again. This builds a better employee without wrecking morale. 

Words only go so far. Show that you care about people through your actions

3) Set an Example of Making Progress

It’s relatively easy to maintain the status quo in a work environment. But true leaders who keep pushing for improvement are rare and incredibly valuable. 

To develop a progress mindset:

  • In every situation, think, “How can we improve this?” When you push for progress, you’ll be viewed as a progressive thinker.
  • Insist on high standards in everything you do. Don’t settle for mediocrity. When you do, others adjust their conduct to fit those standards. 

Other people will follow your example. Think, “What would this organization be like if everyone in it were just like me?” If you raise the bar, others will follow. 

This progress mindset is useful outside of work as well. 

  • For family, ask yourself:
    • Is my family happier now than six months ago? 
    • Am I doing everything I can to give them what they need? 
    • Am I setting an example of progress for my kids? 
  • For community, ask yourself:
    • Am I helping my community improve, rather than just complain?
    • Am I a good neighbor? Am I a good citizen?
    • Am I supporting worthwhile projects and creating a better place to live? 

4) Take Time for Yourself to Think

People in leadership roles are exceptionally busy, but often they have one thing in common: they spend quality time alone with their own thoughts. Carving out time to spend in uninterrupted thought helps you figure out solutions to problems, plan courses of action and unleash creative thinking.

Don’t be the type of person who can’t stand being alone. When you consult with too many people, your own vision gets clouded and crowded. You won’t know what you independently think.

When setting aside time to think, try two types of thinking:

  • Directed: Go in with a major problem. Study it and think about how to solve it.
  • Undirected: Go in with an open mind, and see where your mind takes you. 
Leadership Mindset: Think Your Way to the Top

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darya

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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