Mindset Memos: Learning to Think Like a Leader

The following excerpt was taken from the book, Mindset Memos, by the Life Essentials Series. Forward below written by Chris Brady

I’ve studied leaders for decades, and when considering their track records and actions, I’m always left pondering one particular question: “How did they know to do what they did?” It’s one thing to read about the history of a country, company, or project and be told the facts about what happened. It’s another to understand the why behind the what.

This was driven home to me while researching the development of the Kindle e-reader at Amazon. As you will discover, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was adamant that his vision of the future e-reader be carried out in a certain way. Particularly, he wanted seamless wireless connectivity to the internet at all times so that customers could buy a book directly from the device anytime, anywhere, without any hassle. There would be no rate plans, no ongoing subscriptions, and no download charges. This was all to avoid the need to hook the device up to a computer in order to purchase an e-book. Bezos’ concept was that he should be able to hustle through an airport, remember that he had forgotten a book, and in seconds download one onto the reader without any technical knowledge or complication. It should be so easy a neophyte could do it with ease.

While this sounds logical, it was not easy to implement. For one thing, deals would have to be negotiated and struck between Amazon and wireless carriers all over the world. The costs could be astronomical. Further, no one had ever done anything like this before, and there could be no certainty it would work. Nearly everyone involved with Bezos on the project was opposed to this particular aspect of the reader, and many thought the risks far outweighed any of the potential gains in usability. But Bezos would not be moved and was insistent.

As I learned of Bezos’ obstinacy in the face of opposition from his peers and subordinates, I was struck with my usual question: just how did he know this would be so important? Why did he insist on it even in the face of resistance from just about everyone on his team? Because in the end, of course, this one particular aspect of the Kindle design was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back and brought the formerly resistant book publishers on board. Once Amazon representatives demonstrated to the publishers the easy connectivity that fostered spontaneous book buying, they were finally sold. It was the turning point in the whole, complicated, coordinated development project.

Had Bezos known this would turn out to be so important? After all, several years later the WhisperNet feature was quietly dropped from the Kindle with hardly a, well, whisper. But at the time it proved crucial to the Kindle’s success. We are left to conclude nothing other than the fact that Bezos could not have known specifically how important this feature would turn out to be, but conceptually he was convinced it was the right thing to do. And that is the key.

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Great leaders never know for sure. They, after all, are leading people into waters in which they’ve never sailed themselves. That’s the very picture of leadership. Many times the leader must lead others into places he himself has never been. At such times conviction is paramount. Being right is not nearly as important as being sure.

I could give several additional examples, as again and again I find this same dynamic when studying successful leaders. But this one is sufficient, because it so aptly demonstrates the concept. And here is my point: leaders don’t know precisely what the future will bring, but they have a mindset that if they are not right about something, they will simply shift and end up making things right anyway. The goal is set, the vision is cast, and the leader is entirely committed to making it come true. Convictions come in strong, and they can sometimes be right, but they are also sometimes wrong. Ultimately, this doesn’t even matter, because the greatest leaders have a mindset that regardless of the obstacle, they will get to their envisioned destination. The way is not as important as the reason for the journey in the first place. The path can change, but the vision remains.

It’s a mindset. It’s a passionate adherence to an inner compass. It’s the response to a burning desire. And with the Kindle project, Bezos had it in spades. He would not be deterred. He knew intuitively what would be required to bring his vision to reality, and he would not be denied by the logic of those who would play it safe. If an obstacle were to pop up along the way (as they did in droves), he and his team could just pivot as necessary. But they kept their eye on the prize until it was realized.

That’s the essence of the mindset of leadership. It can be expressed most clearly in the stories of what leaders do, which provide insight into why they did what they did.

The Mindset Memos book features several stories that are compelling for the leadership traits they display. The leaders are very diverse, ranging from business figures to artists and athletes, but the leadership lessons are a consistent thread running throughout. Read each carefully, and consider how the lessons involved apply to your own quest in life. Don’t simply look at the what; seek to understand the deeper why. And there, in the reasons springing from the mindset of these great leaders, it is my hope you will find the conviction to pursue your own why.

Want to read more? Purchase Mindset Memos: Bite-Sized Biographies for Learning to Think Like a Leader HERE.

(Posted by Kristen Seidl, on behalf of Chris Brady.)

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