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10 Ways Successful Leaders Think Differently (Than the Rest of Us)

Thinking differently begets behaving differently.

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BY Lolly Daskal - 02 Apr 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

To be an effective leader, you need to think like a leader. But what does that even mean?

Successful leaders tend to share habits of thought that set them apart. While these patterns have many elements, they're grounded in an understanding of the power of thought. Everything we think, like everything we do, has consequences. Positive thoughts grow into positive attitudes that in turn grow into positive outcomes--and negative thoughts do the same in the other direction. As the saying goes, we become what we think.

Successful leaders understand this principle well, and they express it in specific highly disciplined ways. Here are some examples:

1. Instead of thinking only of themselves, they include others.

While most people express their hopes and aspirations in terms like "I hope I get" or "I want to do," successful leaders understand that it's we before I and us before me. Their team, the people they lead, are at the forefront.

2. Instead of dwelling on problems, they focus on solutions.

Problems are real, and they warrant our attention, but they don't go away without solutions. Knowing things aren't working is a good first step but nothing more. Great leaders understand that focusing on problems brings more problems but focusing on solutions opens up opportunities.

3. Instead of advancing their individual success, they work toward building a successful team.

Most people think of success as something to be achieved as an individual, believing that if something good happens it's because they made it happen. Successful leaders understand that the diverse strengths of a team are much more likely to create and maintain success. Their key belief: together we can do great things.

4. Instead of making things complicated, successful leaders simplify.

It's easy to get wrapped up in details and spiral into excessive complication. Great leaders, on the other hand, have the ability to eliminate the unnecessary so they can focus on the heart of the issue. It's an approach that lets them solve problems quickly and effectively.

5. Instead of trying to determine who is right, they think in terms of what is right.

By refusing to view conflict in terms of who's right and who's wrong, successful leaders know that it's about working together to move things forward and make it right. They analyze issues, not people.

6. Where others think small, they think big.

Fear of success and fear of failure are both attitudes that can keep you thinking small. Successful leaders understand if you think small, you'll stay small, and that's the worst kind of failure. They don't let their fears dissuade them from thinking big.

7. Where others become distracted, successful leaders stay focused.

Most people don't have the discipline or endurance to stay focused through the nonstop distraction of modern life. Successful leaders have the strength of purpose to see things through to completion.

8. Where others want control, successful leaders go with the flow.

Most of us want more control in our lives, and that desire is a major source of stress. In truth, though, much of what happens in work and in life is outside our control. Successful leaders understand that anything you cannot control is teaching you to let it go and go with the flow.

9. Instead of thinking "Let's just get this done," successful leaders ask themselves "How can I get this done with excellence?"

You can always find a justification to cut a few corners when timelines or budgets are tight. But successful leaders embrace a spirit of excellence that leads them to give their all, not because someone is looking over their shoulder but because it's the right thing to do.

10. Where others wish they had more acknowledgement, successful leaders work to appreciate others more.

Most of us are at least somewhat preoccupied with wanting recognition for our hard work and a job well done. Successful leaders are usually going in the opposite direction, constantly looking for new opportunities to acknowledge those who have done the hard work. They care more about giving recognition than receiving it.

We fail to be successful leaders when we fail to think like successful leaders. Changing mental habits is difficult work, but establishing the right way of thinking is required if you want to succeed and make a lasting change in the world.