Thinking Leaders – Solitude for your Mind to Work

Mountain Solitude

Today I would like to discuss the fourth and final leadership principle in the last chapter of The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz. I find these principles to be very helpful and practical in my personal season of life – but also for the season we’re in as a nation. We need to develop as leaders to come out of this pandemic with more strength than we had before because the challenges will be that much bigger! 

Principle 4: Take time out to confer with yourself and tap your supreme thinking power. 

Many of us, myself included, have the problem of crowding our minds with busy schedules and distractions. If we’re always jumping from one thing to the next or allowing (or inviting?) screens and noise to fill our eyes and ears, then we never have time to think. Perhaps we believe that thinking is a waste of time. Or perhaps we are subconsciously afraid of our own thoughts and to feel alone in our minds. However, I think that many people simply haven’t been taught or encouraged to have a habit of intentionally stepping into solitude to think and meditate.  

Without spending time in thought, we become increasingly shallower and lack stability and firmness of purpose. We need to step away and think through big life decisions, consider our identity and purpose, and even to draw small(er) conclusions for work and relationships. 

My experience today:

Before writing this today, I decided to spend some time thinking and meditating – in order to practice what I was about to preach. BUT I WASTED some of that precious time by being distracted by something on my phone. I recognize that I need to break away from the distractions in order to be successful in this habit! 

Advice from Dr. Schwartz

David Schwartz provides very helpful advice as he supports his claim that “successful leaders tap their superpowers through being alone.” And he challenges us by saying that, “You can, too!” 

He reminds us that the great spiritual leaders – “Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammad, Gandhi” – spent much of their time alone in solitude. There is also the example that many of the evil masterminds of the last century spent time in prison before enacting their destructive plans (Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Marx). These examples, and many others, demonstrate to us that we have a powerful tool at our disposal (our mind) – but we must tap into it more often in order to reap the benefits it can provide.  

Okay! I get it. But HOW?

(glad you asked – here are some ideas) 

  1. Schwartz says to “resolve now to set aside some time each day (at least thirty minutes) to be completely by yourself.”  
    1. This could be directed – with a specific topic or problem in mind. 
    2. Or it could be undirected – and you simply allow your mind go where it wishes and you chase ideas to their conclusion.  
    3. This could be one block of time or split between different times – say the beginning and end of the work day.  
    4. It would be beneficial to journal your ideas and conclusions.
  1. Take a solitude day or weekend once a quarter (or year).
    1.  I found great benefit in removing distractions and being in solitude for an entire day on a few occasions. I had a plan for the time and resolved to make it productive – and it was great! 
  1. Meditation and Self-affirmation 
    1. These are practices I am stepping into more recently.  
    2. Too much to be said here – so I will provide more in a near future post. 

Questions: 

  1. Is this a practice that you would benefit from? Will you start today? 
  1. If you have practiced “solitude for the mind” before, please share your ideas and tips on the topic.  

Reference: Schwartz, David. “How to Think Like a Leader.” The Magic of Thinking Big. Touchstone, pp. 275-302.

Purchase: https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Thinking-Big-David-Schwartz/dp/1897384424/

Thinking Leaders – Stand for Progress!

Non-progress in India

Previously, I wrote on the first two leadership principles in the last chapter of The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz. They were to “trade minds with the people you want to influence” and to ask yourself “What is the human way to handle this?” This week I want to discuss the third principle on “how to think like a leader.” 

Principle 3:  Think Progress, Believe in Progress, Push for Progress. 

Experience with non-progress:

I have had the privilege of traveling in India on three occasions over the past decade. On each of those trips, I was able to experience the life of Indian people in a very rural context (small villages, back woods, dirt roads). One of the aspects of these people and towns that struck me over and over was the fact that so many of them were using tools and methods that their ancestors would have used over a century ago. They were content to keep using short, homemade brooms that caused their backs and knees to hurt. Some used wooden, ox-driven carts to carry hay for their water buffaloes while the younger generation zips around on small motorcycles or plays games on their iPhones. Everywhere I looked, I saw examples of people who were not progress minded – and just continued doing what they had always been doing.  

Turning this personal:

But then I think about myself. Am I always progress-minded? Do I believe that I can and should improve? That there is opportunity for progress in our company or my family? I am recognizing that I need to “think progress” – or I might drift on the status-quo and be stagnant like all those people I encountered in India.  

Guidance from Dr. Schwartz:

David Schwartz provides helpful guidance as he said, “there are two special things you can do to develop your progressive outlook:  

  1. Think improvement in everything you do. 
  1. Think high standards in everything you do.” 

He tells a story of a teacher he had one year that did not believe in progress. She didn’t seem to care about the students or really believe that they could improve. She was not respected and the students ran over her all year long. Not much progress because there wasn’t a belief in progress. The teacher he had the next year (with the exact same set of students) set the tone from day one that she loved the students, believed in progress, and expected excellence from each of them. She received respect all year long – and progress was made. She “thought” improvement and had high standards.  

We are challenged to remember that the team, group, or family you lead will “adjust themselves to the standards you set” (and example you provide). They want to know if you think progress and what level of progress you expect of them.  

Helpful quotes to remember:

“Check the example you set. Use this old but ever-accurate quatrain as a guide: 

What kind of world (company/group/family) 
would this world be, 
If everyone in it
were just like me?”  

“The simplest way to get high-level performance is to be sure the master copy is worth duplicating.” 

Wow! That quote is good. I just wrote that down in the back of my planner!  

Application Questions:

Are you a progressive thinker? Or do you drift in the status-quo?  

  •  I know that it is a mix for your spheres in life – so think about progress opportunity in each life domain.  

Reference: Schwartz, David. “How to Think Like a Leader.” The Magic of Thinking Big. Touchstone, pp. 275-302.

Purchase: https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Thinking-Big-David-Schwartz/dp/1897384424/

Thinking Leaders – Trade Minds and Be Human

Skiers following a leader

I just finished The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz. Great book for you to put on your reading list. Yes… it is a “self-help” book – but it was written in 1959 and has sold millions of copies – so it is time tested and still standing! I found it to be very relevant and had many topics that were personally encouraging or challenging. I really liked the final chapter so I decided that I will discuss it with you through three messages (so I don’t write one that is way too long!)  

The closing chapter is titled “How to Think Like a Leader” and provides four leadership principles to consider as you engage in any form of leadership. We’ll dissect and discuss the first two today and attack the other two in the following weeks.  

Principle 1 – Trade minds with the people you want to influence 

This principle is really about seeing other people as significant individuals who have their own hopes, fears, interests, values, etc. They are not an object and they are not exactly like you or me. We cannot put people in cookie-cutter boxes and expect to be a driving influencer for them. We have to “keep this question in mind: ‘What would I think of this if I exchanged places with the other person?’” We will have more success in leading others, selling something, or gaining approval if we first “think of the interests of the people we want to influence.”  

He tells a story of a young lady who failed in retail procurement because she always purchased clothes that she liked for the store. Turns out, her taste in clothes and expectation of price was not even close to that of the store’s typical customer – so the clothes didn’t sell and she lost her job.  

Schwartz also provides some helpful situational questions to ask yourself. Here are a couple: 

  • The way I give orders – “Would I like to carry out orders if they were given to me the way I give them to others?” 
  • Preparing a speech – “Considering the background and interests of the audience, what would I think of this remark?” 

Application Question: What area of your life would benefit from implementing this principle? How would you do it? 

Principle 2 – Think: What Is the Human Way to Handle This? 

He starts off saying that there are three approaches to leadership situation – as the Dictator (who never involves subordinates in decisions), as the mechanical “rule-book-operator” (who is a manager by the book, no questions necessary), or as what he calls “Being Human.”  

The leader who takes the “be human” approach makes his actions say, “You are a human being. I respect you. I’m here to help you in every way I can.” Your approach in all circumstances shows that “you put people first” – because you’re all human and can address situations as humans would.  

Schwartz tells an impactful story about a business leader who saw every one of his employees as being “under his protection” and would go out of his way to serve his staff. When he needed to let an employee go who was not well suited for the position, instead of just kicking them out, he made connections and assisted the person in finding another job so they were able to transition directly without unemployment. Now that’s a high standard worth emulating! 

“Practice praising people. Rub people the right way. Be human.”  Or I like the way C.S. Lewis puts it – “be a good infection” in your relationship with others.  

Both of these principles have a striking similarity to the Golden Rule spoken by Jesus – “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” (or “treat others the way you want to be treated.)  

Application Question:  With whom can you “be human” today? What would change in your relationship? 

 

Reference: Schwartz, David. “How to Think Like a Leader.” The Magic of Thinking Big. Touchstone, pp. 275-302.

Purchase: https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Thinking-Big-David-Schwartz/dp/1897384424/