[October 13, 2020] For the first half of my long career in the U.S. Army, I was wrong. I was most wrong about learning the way to think like a leader. For so long, I thought the solution was to understand what successful leaders thought rather than how they thought. It was the essential process of thinking that made them successful.
Not unlike learning a bunch of dates and names in history class – which is tedious and unproductive – it is more important to understand the perspective of the times and circumstances under which events occurred. Doing so is both more exciting and informative. How things unfolded in our history gives us a better view of why we are here and, thus, a better perspective on the way ahead for our community and also for our society.
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Maimonides, medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher
I like this quote because it points to the importance of the process (teaching a man to fish) instead of a possible result (a fish). Like my sister who told me where the Easter Eggs were located, those who emphasize the latter would do us all a favor by instructing us how to perform better. It was my mother who showed me how to find those Easter Eggs under bushes and behind trees.
I have to point out, at this juncture, that teaching how to think is not easy. Learning any process can be daunting, on occasion embarrassing as we are learning too slowly, and frustrating as we reconfigure our ways of thinking. We’ve all seen how difficult it is to learn how to care for children properly and not let them control us, for they will if we let them. Children are smart little things, and they will always push boundaries. It is incumbent upon us to show them the proper path in life and not focus on objects to obtain.
Understanding how leaders think was difficult for me. I was fortunate to have a mentor who pushed and pulled me into the right frame of mind. I was also lucky to have that done in peacetime, where the penalty for failure was less.
Years later, while in combat, I worked productively through some of the most complex and demanding assignments of my career. I only did so because of others pointing me in the right direction and focusing my efforts on HOW, rather than WHAT successful leaders thought.