There are three highly critical components of great leadership. While they may appear extremely simple at first glance, they can also be highly complex at the same time. It is my contention that these elements may take some practice to master and that the time you invest is more than worth it. These three components are thought, decision making, and communication.
“Thought” may seem simple enough, but only if you are doing it wrong. If you want to make the right decisions more often, there is a process to it. Strategic, critical, systems, tactical, creative and reflective thinking; while these are all similar because they require deep thought, they are actually very different modes as far as the act of thinking goes. If you boiled it down, you could almost say that the six different types of thinking are actually just a road map of sound decision making – meaning that if you simply follow the process and practice it often, your decisions will get better. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that proper thought processes will make better decisions.
Strategic Thinking could be defined as a mental process applied by an individual in the context of achieving success. Perhaps the best way to explain this would be to say it is the broad “End Game” way of thinking. So where Strategic Thinking may define the path, Critical Thinking would be the reflective judgment concerning what to do. Systems Thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. This could be said to be the “cause and effect” of the thinking processes. Tactical Thought would be the analysis of specific resources either available or needed to achieve each step in the broader “End Game”. Creative Thought is the ability to create. In this context, it would be the ability to create solutions or ideas that aid in the solution of the “End Game”. It could also be simply “thinking outside of the box”. Reflective Thought would be utilized when the “End Game” has been achieved and you analyze what had been done and how you did it in an effort to improve or fine-tune future decisions.
Each step should be considered a piece to a much bigger leadership process. This process is important to a leader for numerous reasons. Aside from the obvious, I would imagine that consciously addressing each type of thought when making a decision would aid greatly in the number of times a correct decision was made. Rather than just making what would end up being a rash or “gut” decision, a deliberate effort to address each type of thought, and perhaps aided with my “Three Rule Method”, would undoubtedly generate more solid ideas and direction.
This benefits you because solid ideas and sound decisions will ease the minds of the followers and reassure them that they are following the right person. This is because the decisions and direction will be quality decisions and directions more often than not. This will establish confidence in your followers, but also in yourself. This benefits you even more because followers will be better focused on the tasks at hand rather than doubting you.
To be honest, Critical Thought is where many “struggle” in regard to the process. This is because some feel that they just do not have the “full-proof” answer; even when having addressed the other steps, and even when applying the “Three Rule Method” (which for clarity is comprised of logic, cause and effect, and Occam’s Razor). They doubt themselves. This doubt is based out of fear. So if this is you, take heart. Here is one of the best-kept secrets of leadership – there is no such thing as a “full-proof” answer. If there were, famous Generals and powerful leaders would have been a thing of the past a long time ago. If you follow the process, your decisions will be the best based on the information at hand.
Still, while a leader’s decisions and direction using this method do tend to be at least “more accurate” than others, the confidence to support or communicate such decisions can be lacking at times. As stated earlier, better decisions can provide better results. But better results can only be achieved if the decisions are properly communicated to those carrying out the task. This can be an issue for those with interpersonal problems and/or those who feel that they have made too many mistakes in the past. As a result, trying to overcome those mistakes to become more confident in the future becomes a difficult task. The key here is to step out on the ledge and make the decisions anyway. You need to begin to build confidence and getting it right will help this. And you WILL have it right by the way; because you followed the thought process.
I don’t want to beat this horse, but I understand that many of the dents in our proverbial armor come directly from the “mental abuse” sustained in previous relationships or experiences, as well as how horribly some of us have or continue to navigate these circumstances. This sometimes leads to a communication problem in general. But as a leader, you still need to communicate your decisions or directions. That’s what leadership is all about. Your interpersonal or confidence issues do not negate what is required of you. What good is a decision or direction if you cannot successfully communicate them? If you cannot find it in yourself to communicate, then it could be a deal-breaker for you, because your leadership ability will be suspect. It might be best for you and your followers for you to consider stepping down. But before you do that, I want you to consider the following…
You are not alone. But we need to evaluate and address our interpersonal effectiveness in its broadest terms. Many great leaders are scared in crowds. Some continually doubt themselves. The point is that they keep working on trying to overcome their issues. This may require continual refinement and reflection because it may include issues within our friendships, professional encounters, scholastic endeavors, as well as relationships within our own family. This refinement and reflection may be as simple as “letting go” for some, or for others, simply finishing something you had once set out to do. Others may need to simply talk their problems out, and still, some just need to get a few solid decisions under their belt. It is truly different for everyone. Regardless, understand that there is no such thing as perfection. Even if things are getting better all the time, we should still recognize that we are emotional beings and subject to the repercussions it may bring. There is something that can help though.
For the life of me, I cannot recall where I picked this next tool up from, so a citation will have to go out to the Psychology community at large. Anyway, it is called “Dear Man Give Fast”. It is an acronym that suggests you simply describe, express, assert, reinforce, be mindful, appear confident, negotiate, be gentle, be interested, validate yourself and others, be easy-going, be fair to yourself and others, do not apologize, stick to your values, and be truthful. Following this little guide will help in your leadership and communication substantially. This is one of the many tools I successfully use to help navigate my own road map to interpersonal relationships, so hopefully, it helps you.
Remember the point of all this; that you understand that the three most critical components of great leadership are sound thinking, actually deciding on something and great communication in regard to what you have decided. You must have these to be a successful leader. More often than not, while simple, these are easier said than done; especially when the “sound thinking” part hasn’t been given much thought in the first place, or when communicating that decision with anyone is a problem for any reason. These elements may just take some practice. From now on, practice the three and complete the process to the fullest; even if you have interpersonal issues; eventually it will all become a habit.
de Janasz, S. C., Dowd, K. O., & Schneider, B. Z. (2012).Interpersonal skills in organizations. (4th ed.). Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill.
Griffith, D. B., & Goodwin, C. (2013). Conflict survival kit. Tools for resolving conflict at work. (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson