Good thinkers solve problems. They never lack for ideas, and they always have hope for a better future. In Episode #72, Chris and Perry explain how the way people think is the one thing that separates successful people from unsuccessful people.
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Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach, and I’m Chris Goede, Vice President with the John Maxwell Company. Welcome, and thank you for joining. As a reminder, if you would like to learn more about the 5 Levels of Leadership or perhaps bring one of us in for a 5 Levels private workshop for your organization, we would love to do that! Please leave a comment or question for Perry and me on the John Maxwell site. We would love to hear from you. Also, we now offer Learning Guides for every podcast episode which can be found on our website.
Today’s topic is titled, “I think I Want to Think Like Successful Leaders Think.” Perry, what in the world? Talk to us a little about what we’re getting into today. One of John’s books, Thinking for a Change, somehow ended up on my desk one day. I started reading it, and it changed my life. It’s on my shelf today still, highlighted to the max. In this book, John says “If you change your thinking, you can change your life.” As we start a new year, this is something that all leaders (I know this is true for me personally) should do more of. I’ve been trying to put a discipline on thinking and reflecting. It’s a challenge.
It’s very easy for us all to get busy and say “I don’t have time to think.” I was at an organization the other day, and I was with an executive team about 12 people. We were talking about Level 4, developing others, and how you can work on intentionally develop that top 20% of your team. We were talking about succession planning at each level. A guy (nice suit, been there a long time, you can tell he’s been leading for a while) raised his hand. He said, “Yeah, I don’t have time for that.” So, I challenged his thinking around the thought process of “I don’t have time.” We all get caught up in our busy lives and forget to be intentional about carving out time to think. I struggle with it as well. I just want to remind our listeners that leadership is not just about the doing. Leadership is also about the thinking. That’s a very important part of leadership that a lot of people don’t take it well.
John has some thoughts on this. We’re going to review the six things that John says will make us better thinkers. Number one is to expose yourself to good input. I hadn’t considered this. Really good thinkers are priming the pump with ideas from other sources. This is powerful for me, because if you asked me to sit down for an hour in an office with four walls and a pen and pad of paper, and you said, “Write down what you’re thinking,” I promise you, you’d come back in an hour, and the paper would be blank. I’m more of a concrete thinker. I’ve got to have something to build my thoughts off of.
So, to get my thoughts rolling, I’ll listen to podcasts and audiobooks and take notes. This jumpstarts the thinking process. I think about what I used to tell my kids when they were younger. I used to tell them, “Garbage in, garbage out.” So, if you’re not consuming anything valuable, nothing valuable will come out of you. One of the things John says is, “Hey, if you’re not adding value to this meeting or this idea, you might not be asked back to the meeting.” The only way I find myself adding value to my team, to meetings, to wherever I am, is if I’m continually putting stuff in at the top.
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The second thing John says, and this is something I really want to do better in the new year, is expose yourself to good thinkers. Choose to spend time with people that challenge your thinking, people who are constantly trying to grow and learn. I know I used you and the team here at John Maxwell Company that way, because while we are like-minded, we have different ways of getting to some thoughts, and we do bounce thoughts off of each other quite a bit. Iron sharpens iron. John also says, “If you’re the smartest person in the class, you’re in the wrong class.” We’ve talked about this before as leaders. You need to get outside that class and expose yourself to other thinkers in order to grow.
I’ve talked about it from an athletic standpoint. My son went from being at a great high school football player to the University of Georgia, where he is absolutely is at the bottom of the totem pole as a freshman on the football team. I’m seeing his game and his knowledge elevate. It’s the same thing with thinking as a leader. If you are continually having conversations with somebody that thinks exactly like you, who has the same values and beliefs, you’re not challenging your mindset. Who are the five people that influence you, whether it’s an author, podcaster, or somebody in your office, who are challenging the way that you’re thinking. How are they lifting that lid?
I’m thinking of a coworker at a small company I worked at years ago. He was very liberal in his thinking, and I come from a very conservative background. It got to be pretty contentious. Finally, he said, “Hey, let’s meet once a week and talk about some of our ideas.” I thought, “Oh, this is not going to end well.” But it was absolutely the best thing I ever did. It really opened my mind. We didn’t try to convince each other or sell each other. We just wanted to hear a different thought than what we were used to in our circles.
The third thing John talks about is choosing to think good thoughts. He says you must become intentional about your thinking. Thinking is really a discipline. I’ll share a personal example here. John says you’ve got to remove the distractions. He has a thinking chair as his quiet thinking spot. For me, I like to have music playing in the background. I’ll work with it, whether in the house or in the office. People wonder how I can focus with it on. Finally, I tried to shut everything off. No music at home, while I was working. When I was driving in my car, the radio was off. What I found was that, first of all, everything has an off button. But, more importantly, I found that I was more productive in my thinking with no background noise. I was able to be more focused. So, I’d thought the music was helping me, but when I tested it, it was the opposite. It was just distracting me.
So, what I want to challenge you to do is try a couple of different places, a couple of different times, a couple of different backgrounds, and find the most optimal environment for you to think about your business, your life, and everything else you have going on. When’s the last time you drove in silence, just thinking? When I go for a walk, I’m listening to a book. It’s a positive thing to do, but there is value to shutting it off, too. So, for one mile of my three to five mile walk, I turn off the noise and just think for a mile. Enjoy nature, enjoy being alone. I realized I don’t have a lot of quiet in my life. My brain comes alive.
Number four: John talks about acting on your good thoughts. I love this, because ideas have a short shelf life. You need to act on them. After my book was published, I had all these ideas for additional books, and I wrote them down. I’ve got a notebook full of ideas, but have I acted on them at all? No. One of the things I’ve learned by just being around John for so long is, when he has a thought, even if it’s at night, he’s got one of those notepads ready to go. The first step is to write it down. The second step is to spend some time thinking on the thought. How do I make it better? Why did I have this thought?Number five: allow your emotions to create another good thought. John says that you cannot wait until you feel like thinking to do it. If you engage with the process of good thinking, you can use your emotions to feed the process and create this mental momentum. I love that. Do not wait to feel like thinking.
Let me close with this. Number six is to repeat the process. One good thought does not make a good business decision, a good life move, a good change, whatever it might be. It’s something that you’ve got to figure out. How do I repeat the process of good thinking? You’ve got to develop your own system, your own time, your own place, your own background, whatever it might be. So, as we wrap up, that’s what I want to encourage you to do coming out of this podcast. I want to encourage you to find some time to dedicate to thinking. It doesn’t matter where it is, doesn’t matter what time of the day it is. We just want you to find some time.
Write it down, act on it, and then repeat that process. And don’t make it harder than it needs to be! Find a quiet place. It doesn’t have to be an hour locked in a corner. It needs to be someplace you can exist in the moment, turn off the distractions, and have some good thoughts. I promise you, once you do that, you’ll be surprised at some of the things that you’re able to think through that will help not only in your professional career but in your personal development.
I’d just like to remind you that if you want to know more about the 5 Levels of Leadership, you can go to visit website at johnmaxwellcompany.com/podcast and leave a question or comment for us there. We’d love to hear from you. And be sure to check out our Learning Guide, downloadable above! We’re always grateful that you join us on these broadcasts. This has been the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.