Think like a Leader


How do you think about leadership? Not the textbook or Google definition. What does it actually mean to you? How does your mindset help you? How does it hurt you? How do all of your answers to these questions inform your style of leadership?

“It’s not the outer conditions of your life that determine your state of mind or your future ahead. It’s the internal conditions.” –Margie Warrell

I was struck by this quote last week in an article about Covid-19 burnout. One of those simple truths which just hit me because I was ready to hear it and understand it in a new way. The ways in which you think about leadership will dictate how you put it into action.

Which means it all starts with mindset.

We are such an action and task-oriented society. We want to check the boxes, cross the things off the list, and measure accomplishments in tangible, demonstrable ways. It’s much more difficult to put time and energy into something so intangible as how we’re thinking about our approach. But we must.

Everything in life is trial and error to some degree, but that doesn’t excuse a lack of attention to considering your approach before you execute your approach. Here are a few suggestions for intentionally evaluating your leadership and spotting opportunities to act with more intention.

  1. Know your team members. You can’t lead a “them”. Each member of the team is unique. It’s important to understand key things about each person in order to find ways to motivate them. Make a list of your team members. For each person you lead (or lead with), you should understand their aspirations, motivations, core values, talents and skills (especially outside of their current role), how they prefer to communicate, and how they prefer to be managed. Whatever you don’t know presents an opportunity to sit down together (even if it’s virtually, cameras on) and ask thoughtful questions. But start with reflecting on what you already know, and what gaps need to be filled.
  2. Assess engagement. Use the same list of team members. What challenges does each one face? Anything stopping them from performing at their best? Take note of any potential blockage they are displaying. Reflect on your understand of why it’s happening. Identify potential action steps you can take to help them reengage.
  3. Earn the right to lead. What would your team members say about you as a leader? When is the last time you asked? How willing are you to hear their feedback? Are you credible? Do you inspire trust and confidence? Do you admit mistakes? Do you do what’s right, even when it’s not easy? Go back through that list of team members one more time and think about what they would each say. Are you earning the right to lead them in an intentional way? Or are you relying on your title?

It’s tempting to use this exercise as a way to jump right into action. We’re not discouraging you from having conversations to help you close any gaps in your understanding. However, this is an article about thinking like a leader. What would happen if you were to sit with your analysis of your team members for a couple of days? Would anything else occur to you? Would you begin to notice other things as you interact with them?

Thinking like a leader starts with carving out time to evaluate, reflect, and assess your understanding of your team.

Examining your mindset will help you identify opportunities to shift it, focus it, and be more intentional about how it informs your actions. If you follow steps 1-3, you’ll become more aware of your own thoughts about what it means for you to think like a leader. Let that deeper understanding guide your actions.

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