The Seven Principles of Thinking Like a Leader

1. Keep a focus on the mission and higher intent

Never lose sight of the mission, purpose, and results you need to achieve. Due to the complexity of their duties, leaders are often drawn toward unusual and critical events that force them in different directions. While these difficulties need to be attended to, don't lose sight of the higher intent of the organization.

2. Set Big Hairy Audacious Goals

Almost anyone can achieve easy goals, but do you really believe that is what your competitors are aiming for? It's tempting to simplify your competition by treating them as rigid or simply reactive. Good leaders use their visioning skills to set BHAGs with a thorough understanding of how to reach them... not with reckless abandon.

3. Coach your followers

There are a few things that you need to keep a pulse on because they can have real damaging effects on your organization, but the vast majority of objectives and details can be handled by your followers. Yes, they will make mistakes. Bad leaders chew their buttocks off; good leaders know that mistakes provide one of the most valued learning opportunities there is.

4. Combat complexity and change with learning

Not only must you coach your followers, you must also change the culture to a mindset of a learning organization. You cannot be the only coach — the entire organization needs to know the skills, have the technologies, and be in climates that allow's them to help develop others through both formal and informal experiences.

5. Set the example: Be, Know, Do

You are a role model of the organization who sets the standard by being a person of good character, knowing your job, and doing all that matters.

6. Flatten the organization by replacing hierarchies with networks

While it might be comforting to think that information should flow smoothly up to you, and in return, you reply with commands, the world is simply too complex and moving too fast.
Vertical leadership are organizations where leaders are in a formal positions of power at the top of the hierarchy and whose commands typically run down the hierarchy, while information flows up it. In simple environments, this can work quite well.
However, if we view leadership as being a total system, rather than lying in individual power, then we have horizontal or flat leadership that are networks of people where information and commands flow in all directions so that change and complexity are rapidly mastered.

7. Create and sustain diversity and inclusion

Having biases against people who are different greatly hinders your ability to gain new insights. Diversity is about empowering people. It makes an organization effective by capitalizing on all of the strengths of each employee. It is not EEO or Affirmative Action — these are laws and policies. Diversity is understanding, valuing, and using the differences in every person. Mastering diversity leads to inclusion where all people feel they are highly valued for their uniqueness. In turn, the organization benefits from the synergistic effects of a cohesive team who bring an array of experiences to the table.
If you would like to learn more, see The Seven Principles of Thinking Like a Leader, which provides links to in-depth articles on the various concepts


Stephanie Stechenfinger said...

Great points. I am curious as to your thoughts on #4.
"Combat complexity and change with learning
Not only must you coach your followers, you must also change the culture to a mindset of a learning organization. You cannot be the only coach — the entire organization needs to know the skills, have the technologies, and be in climates that allow's them to help develop others through both formal and informal experiences"

What do you feel are the best ways in which to cultivate learning in an organization? I have worked for a large corporation for nearly a decade and that type of mindset seems very difficult to enact. While change and "a healthy organization" are consistently preached, very little is done to support those concepts. What have been your experiences in allowing coaching to prevail?

Unknown said...

I think this blog gives great insight on how to be a leader. As an instructional designer, I think it is important to have leaderships skills. Simply because being a leader is very important in giving out instruction. You have to be able to stand behind whatever it is you bring forth to a organization. If you (Instructional Designer) is unsure, how do you think the client/student will follow. When I go to training and the instructor seems to be unclear of the topic, I lose interest. This blog is a great resource for me to use for the future.

Anonymous said...

Leadership skills are an important attribute for any person to have. I appreciate all seven principles presented. Especially interesting to me is titled "Coach Your Followers" and the accompanying reading on Motivation and Drive http://nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/leadmot.html. Your principles are easily applied to the business model and I see great value. I am wondering if research has been done in the K-12 setting where classroom teachers act as leaders of their organization. I taught middle school students for several years and I am now training for a career in Instructional Design. Motivation has always been a topic that teachers have struggled with. Some students (co-workers) are not motivated to participate in the curriculum (organization). Rewards are devised, student input is encouraged, but in the end, student motivation lacks and thus student achievement fails. How would you alter your model or advise teachers in coaching their followers? How would you set up an ideal classroom? What types of motivators would you reccommend?

Donald Clark said...

I believe the biggest motivators og kids doing well in school are their parents.

This same principle is also the driver of motivation in the workplace -- it is the workers' managers/supervisors who have the most impact. Employees do most often what their managers emphasize, and tend to ignore the things their managers do not care about.

Thus, the managers/leaders need to be part of the learning processes. For example, the manager needs to discuss with her employees the importance of the training they are about to receive and what she and them expect to get out of it.

An excellent book that covers this is " The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development Into Business Results" by Wick, Pollock, Jefferson, and Flanagan.

Anonymous said...

I agree that being a good leader means setting a good example. You have to show your employees that you mean what you say. Trusting that a leader will do the right thing is a very important part of leadership. Often times I find it helpful to write down the actions I am going to take. This helps me remember the promises I have made to both myself and other coworkers.

Anonymous said...

Points 3, 6, and 7 are especially indicative of a change in the climate of leadership. As the author so very aptly pointed out, the world moves too fast for complex organizational structure that hamper efficiency. As the world grows smaller through globalization, more cooperative means of leadership have evolved to handle the challenges of operating in a modern day society. At the end of the day everyone wants to feel heard and valued. It is up to the leadership to encourage such a culture by modeling this behavior through coaching and other techniques.