I recently worked with a client, I’ll call him Fred, who aspired to reach the C-Suite and take his career to the next level. Although he’s had a successful career up to now, he acknowledged that there were areas he needed to improve on – he didn’t know what he didn’t know.
Fred was already a pretty good strategic thinker. But he recognized that to achieve his vision of taking an organization to new heights, and expanding its market share globally while building a sustainable culture (where people actually felt psychological safety and engaged), he needed to enhance his ability to think more deeply and expansively.
Each time you want to level up in your career, you need to level up in all areas of yourself. It’s as if you need to undergo a full operating system upgrade to support the new you. This includes areas such as your self-care rituals, systems for staying organized and knowing your priorities, as well as expanding your thinking.
Expanding your thinking is critical because we live in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world. Problems are more complex and require interconnected solutions. Solving these problems requires systems thinking, strategic thinking, analysis, and empathy to understand the many perspectives involved since these problems are human-based and complex.
However, only approximately 20% of the adult population is able to think at the required developmental level for a VUCA world, according to Lawrence Kohlberg, psychologist and educator. Thankfully, your brain and ability to learn continues to grow (with the right care). Therefore, it’s crucial to expand your thinking for the benefit of yourself and to be effective in today’s world.
How Can You Expand Your Thinking?
Typically, people like to learn by experience, which undoubtedly is an effective way to learn. But there is a disadvantage if you’re the leader of an organization: your mistakes impact others’ lives. Besides, each experience is unique and will likely never be repeated in quite the same way. Here are some other ways.
One way to expand your thinking is to reflect regularly by journaling. It’s important to reflect on the recent past, capture lessons learned and integrate them into your practice, to avoid repeating past mistakes.
Consume Others’ Deeper Ideas
Another way to grow your thinking is by consuming other people’s deeper ideas through reading (or listening to) books. Books allow authors to delve deeply into a topic that articles, podcasts, or social media snippets do not allow. To consistently change and evolve your thinking, you need to consider opposing ideas and different perspectives. This growth is accelerated when you’re taking more than just your personal experience into account.
Personal Board of Directors
Just like a company has a board of directors to guide and advise the leadership, you too need a Personal Board of Directors. This group is composed of individuals who can play different roles, such as deep thinkers; challengers of your beliefs and ideas in a supportive manner; questioners who ask good, open-ended questions; experts in areas you lack strength or have limited expertise, and people you trust and respect.
The purpose of this group is to push you to go deeper and expand your perspectives to arrive at better solutions than you would just on your own. The members of your Personal Board of Directors do not have to meet together, but are people you can call upon as needed and who can do the same for you. It is a relationship that can exist within or outside the organization, but is better when free from biases, so that finding the best solution is the sole motivation.
Back to my client, Fred. When Fred was young, he read a book that advised against sharing your ideas with others, as they would be naysayers who would tell you not to do it or how you will fail. Instead, the book recommended just going for it. Fred took this advice to heart, and it served him well. He spent his life doing and therefore did not seek the advice or counsel of others. This was not terrible advice, especially since he came from a rural area where he may have experienced contrarian advice and disapproval for his aspirations and dreams (which he had many).
However, advice, feedback, and counsel are all important in their own way. The key is to be discerning about the source. You must first evaluate who it is and decide if it is a source that you respect, is unbiased, or at least has your best interest at heart. Then carefully decide if you will take it in and listen or just consider it an opinion of someone you do not admire or want to be like.
It is important to seek out other perspectives to avoid being on an island or in your own head. This is how your thinking can be expanded and your arguments strengthened. However, it does not mean that you should listen to and follow all the advice given. To arrive at the best solution in a VUCA world, you need others to challenge your thinking, to support ideas and help make them better, and sometimes to tell you when you are way off base and explain why. It does not mean that the other person is “right” – right does not exist, it is just an opinion – but it will give you things to consider to avoid unnecessary mistakes.
More Exercises to Play with Your Thinking:
By undertaking exercises and practices that encourage systemic thinking and strategic thinking, you can develop methods of thinking critically to make informed decisions, anticipate changes, and seize opportunities, which are necessary to navigate a VUCA world.
- Playing strategy games, such as chess, poker, or Go, can help develop strategic thinking skills. These games require players to anticipate moves, evaluate options, and make decisions based on limited information, skills that can be applied to real-world situations.
- Scenario planning by creating multiple scenarios of possible futures, based on different assumptions and variables, which develops strategic thinking skills by requiring the consideration of multiple outcomes and the development of contingency plans.
- Analyzing case studies or evaluating arguments, can help develop critical thinking skills by encouraging the identification of assumptions, biases, and logical fallacies.
- Taking on a new project, working in a different department, or volunteering in a different industry can expose you to new experiences and perspectives to help identify new opportunities, risks, and challenges (as well as build empathy by understanding others’ perspectives through experience).
- Mind mapping is a visual tool that can help organize, analyze, or brainstorm complex information. This can be useful in developing the identification of relationships, patterns, and opportunities.
- Empathy Mapping is another mapping tool but it focuses on understanding a user’s (customer or client) needs, pain points, aspirations, and motivations.
Expanding your thinking is a crucial aspect of leadership in today’s VUCA world. By continually expanding your thinking, you can elevate your leadership and take your organization to new heights.
If you need help leveling up so you can take on new and exciting challenges, I’m here for you.