The First Law of Leadership

I have been thinking about what great leaders actually do.  Or better, what they actually do first.  Most experts on such matters believe that vision is the first thing – the leader crafts a compelling vision, as John F. Kennedy did in the early sixties about sending a man to the moon and bringing him back to earth safely prior to the end of that decade.  True, his vision galvanized a nation.  Yet I can’t help but conclude that leadership does not begin with the crafting of a vision.  It begins with thought.

In business especially, it appears to me that so many of us are racing against the clock to meet deadlines that we don’t take the time to systematically engage in raw thinking with any consistency.  I recommend we manage ourselves so that we can regularly schedule time to simply think.  Not do, but think.  The doing will come later.  I offer as Exhibit A the example of the late Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, who had a sign affixed to the wall above his desk that simply read “Think!”

What should we think about?  Well, anything is better than nothing.  Having said that, I recommend thinking about where we are at in a given process or project, as well as where we need to go with it next; think about what the greatest opportunities are, and how you could set up management processes to address them; think about what trends tomorrow may bring, and how you can prepare to capitalize on them; think about your people, and how you can help make them more productive; think about your management systems and processes, and how you can make them more innovative; think about the legacy you might wish to leave for the future, then live accordingly.


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