[September 18, 2021] One sure-fire way of improving your leadership skills is learning about what great leaders think. How and why they think specific ways is crucial to helping replicate their successes. Unfortunately, this is a challenging task that requires a serious investment in time and study, but it also requires a lot of good luck.
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason, so few engage in it.” – Henry Ford, American industrialist
There are a limited number of ways to finding out what leaders think. For example, we could just ask them; but that would require more time than they are willing to give, even if you could speak to any of them. Many are dead long ago, and such an option simply will not do in nearly every case, even if they were alive. That means we are limited to other means.
We could read and study what they’ve written or what others have written about them. Assuming we can find such material, it is subject to considerable bias, distortion, and misinterpretations … and the further back in time, the greater this problem. Sadly, we don’t know how the bias has tainted the information for a particular leader of interest.
A method I use often – and there are other techniques not to be disregarded – is reading about what happened during a noteworthy event or series of events in which a given leader played a significant role. Currently, I’m reading about The Battle of Waterloo, A.D. 1815. It is of value to understand the historical circumstances of that battle to help put into context the thinking – rather, what we may think is the thinking – behind Napoléon Bonaparte’s (and another leader’s) decisions.
“Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.” – Brian Tracy
It is more than understanding their thoughts and the processes they used to get to a certain point in their decision-making. Bonaparte adopted an early form of modern military staff work that took much of the recurring and mundane work off the commander, allowing him more time for deeper thinking. And the staff assisted in gathering and analyzing incoming data. Today, we call this the Napoleonic military staff system for a good reason, and it has been adopted in some form by all modern armies.
It’s also good to get a different perspective on the thinking of leaders through other means. Most of what I read about The Battle of Waterloo is from the perspective of the British. Our history books are full of the “English” version and the “winners” version of events that took place there. The French account and those of Bonaparte and his biographers have a different idea.
Regular study of Bonaparte has helped me to understand him a little better. I only wish that I had taken the time to study him closer when I was a junior leader.