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Strategic Discipline Blog

THINK Like a Leader – Above the Line

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Thu, May 18, 2017

In football, they call this a reverse.  My intentions in my last blog were to discuss Productive Paranoia from Jim Collins Great By Choice.

2017 Scale Up Summit .pngSaturday I’m heading to San Antonio for Fortune’s Growth Summit.  Urban Meyer in Above the Line dedicates a chapter to Think like a Leader!  That’s exactly what I and a few thousand business leaders are doing at the Scale Up Growth Summit May 20th-21st .

Let’s talk about this concept and why we, Bill Gates, Urban Meyer and so many leaders have discovered and feel dedicating time to thinking is so critical in today’s VUCA - volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity economy!

At a monthly meeting this week, Dudley Fleck from Fleck Sales put me on the spot about his company’s Strategy Statement.  He asked how it compared to other company’s strategy statement, and were there any areas where it could be improved.  Fleck Sales has a great strategy statement.  One that has fueled and set the path for their continued growth.  A fundamental issue facing every business isn’t often whether they have the right strategy, it’s whether the business is actively implementing its strategy.  In Fleck Sales case, they’ve recognized they need to continuously innovate (it’s part of their Strategy Statement). 

Above the Line - Urban Meyer-2.jpgThe key to achieving innovation is having the tools and resources to deliberately engage your people in the innovation process. It’s why I found the chapter, Think Like a Leader in Above the Line a powerful reinforcer on what your business needs to be doing.  

Think Like a Leader

Meyer’s offers, “Every great leader I have been around or studied has demonstrated the unique ability to think. To think deeply, originally, and often, bravely. Leadership is a mindset first and a skill set second. If you don’t think like a leader, you won’t act like one.”

We all recognize the power of this statement.  We all know leaders who don’t act like leaders.  It’s because they fail to think like one.

The_Q_Qhicken_Loans_Arena.svg.pngLeadership requires a mindset offered by Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, “Thinking about problems, challenges, new ways of doing things and creativity is one of the hardest things you will ever do. It also brings you the finest results.”

It’s why great leadership is such a difficult characteristic to find, and so hard to do. 

Meyer notes, “But there is an even bigger issue here. A lot of people really don’t want to think deeply. They’d prefer to play it safe, not rock the boat, and never stray far from the status quo. I’ve met a lot of people in my life who went to good schools, got good grades, and generally do good work but have minimal ability to think on their feet.”

Meyer places a high priority on thinking. He keeps a notepad by his bed so when an idea pops into his head, he won’t forget it after a night of sleep. Meyer is compulsive about thinking, “I write notes on my phone when I’m walking on a treadmill. When I am driving, I often turn the radio off because the quiet helps me concentrate.”

If the picture isn’t clear to you, understand this.  The distinction between leaders who achieve and those who don’t, is a mindset of thinking!

Demands of Leadership

William Deresiewicz, is a gifted author and essayist.

His central point is true leadership comes from within. It comes from a deep introspection into your beliefs. But if you can’t put aside distractions long enough to be alone in reflection, formulate your own ideas and opinions, then you are handicapping your ability to think, make decisions, and lead. As your problems become more challenging and unique, your thinking needs to become more original. Real-world solutions require real-world leadership. Standard, conventional, cookie-cutter thinking will not enable you to be the leader that your situation requires. It’s been a theme in our blogs on the importance of recognizing trends and developing a mindset in your business to Outthink The Competition.

Deresiewicz-concentrating.png“Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it,” Deresiewicz writes. “Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of twenty seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages, or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.”

 “It seems to me that solitude is the very essence of leadership. The position of the leader is ultimately an intensely solitary, even intensely lonely, one. However many people you may consult, you are the one who has to make the hard decisions. And at such moments, all you really have is yourself.”

The solitude William Deresiewicz writes about is how Urban Meyer shaped leading the Ohio State football program. “You need to think in order to have clarity of purpose, to understand what your priorities are, and what you need to do to help your players maximize their potential.”

More great insights from Meyer, “Sometimes great leadership demands space and doing nothing. It took me a long time to learn that. I used to be a terrible delegator. There is great conceit in believing that there’s no way the job will get done right if I don’t do it. When I was at Florida I was almost obsessed with taking it all on. Sure, we had success, but ultimately it wore me down and impaired my ability to lead the program.”

In my own experience, it requires painful lessons often to learn the value of delegating.

Meyer offers, “The greatest visionaries in every field have that gift for looking ahead. They don’t react. They see, they think, and then they respond.


Every week Dan Gilbert gives Quicken’s information technology department four hours of break time simply to think of ideas that might help the company. Gilbert believes so strongly in the power of thinking, he frees up time to let his people do it. Earlier in Gilbert’s career he’d drive his people just to find the broken things and fix them. As his companies have grown, he shifted to challenging his employees to come up with better ideas. He’s obsessed with finding a better way, “Even when things are going good, we constantly challenge our people to look through a different prism, be creative, be innovative and find a different way.”

Think Like a Leader Summary

  • Invest the time to think. Make it a priority. Leaders think deeply, originally, and often, bravely.
  • When things aren’t going right, the most important thing you can do is slow down, go deep, and figure out why.
  • Encourage your people to bring new ideas to you. And when they do, listen.
  • Exceptional leaders think about common things in an uncommon way.

Fortune Sponsored Growth Summits are excellent events to help your time schedule think time.  Challenge yourself to invest in leadership thinking.  Positioning Systems Strategic Discipline recommends scheduling time in monthly, quarterly, and annual planning meetings for this leadership thinking.  Need help innovating and developing your Four Decisions, contact

San Antonio Growth Summit – Next Blog

Starting Sunday, I’ll be gleaning ideas, resources and tools from top thought leaders presenting at the San Antonio Growth Summit.  Expect to hear the latest business trends and ideas to impact your business starting on Monday. 

Topics: Leadership Training, Growth Summit, Strategic Learning, Think Week, Effective Leadership

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Doug Wick, President

Positioning Systems


The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

Our 3 disciplines include:

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