Great leaders have a common trait: They’re also great thinkers.

To improve big-picture thinking, learn from your successes just like you learn from your failures.

That goes along with the adage: The person who knows how may always have a job, but the person who knows why will always be his boss. Great thinkers know why, or they know how to find out. They have the ability to find solutions regardless of the challenge. Great thinkers in the brokerage world are always moving their firms forward while creating opportunities and rewards for all.

I’ve wondered what makes a person a great thinker. Are you just born with it? Is it gut instinct, or do you actually learn to be a great thinker? The reality is that it could be any of these. I believe it’s not entirely innate. Many people can become great thinkers by consciously trying to change how they think.

In How Successful People Think, John C. Maxwell (Center Street, 2009) writes that what separates successful people from unsuccessful people is how they think. He explores how successful thinking can be taught and learned.

You often hear someone say, “That person is smart.” What they are really saying is that the person is a good thinker. But what does that actually mean? Is it having a high IQ, a great memory, or some other tangible or intangible quality that separates them from others? In reality, great thinkers have a number of qualities that collectively make them stand above the rest. Maxwell has identified 11 traits of great thinkers:

  1. Seeing the Wisdom of Big-Picture Thinking
  2. Unleashing the Potential of Focused Thinking
  3. Discovering the Joy of Creative Thinking
  4. Recognizing the Importance of Realistic Thinking
  5. Releasing the Power of Strategic Thinking
  6. Feeling the Energy of Possibility Thinking
  7. Embracing the Lessons of Reflective Thinking
  8. Questioning the Acceptance of Popular Thinking
  9. Encouraging the Participation of Shared Thinking
  10. Experiencing the Satisfaction of Unselfish Thinking
  11. Enjoying the Return of Bottom-Line Thinking.

Maxwell’s book goes into detail on unleashing, embracing and experiencing these 11 types of thinking. I will touch on these traits as I have seen them displayed in the insurance world. It’s important to realize that to become a great thinker you do not need to be proficient in each area. Rather, you will find that you are probably good in some areas and not so great in others. To become a great thinker, use your strengths and work on improving areas where you are weak. Learn how to apply each of these types of thinking in various situations. For each one, I’ve listed a situation where I think it can be most useful.

Cultivate Big-Picture Thinking

This seems so logical, but the reality is that many people, including leaders, struggle to see the forest through the trees. Pull back and take your focus off of the small, immediate situation. To truly be a big-picture thinker, realize there is a world out there besides your own, and make an effort to get outside of yourself and see other people’s worlds through your own eyes.

You often hear someone say, “That person is smart.” But what does that actually mean?

Four key items to focus on to improve big-picture thinking include:

  1. Don’t strive for certainty. Become comfortable with ambiguity.
  2. Learn from every experience. Don’t rest on successes, but learn from them just like you always need to learn from failures.
  3. Gain insight from a variety of people. Move outside your four walls. Constantly talk and gain insight from clients, employees, colleagues and other leaders.
  4. Give yourself permission to expand your world. Sometimes you need to be able to go against the flow. Most businesses want to keep their leaders in a box.

Don’t be married mentally to the status quo. Give yourself the freedom to think and explore differently than you were taught or told.

In my 25-plus years of consulting, I have been amazed at how often I am able to solve complex issues for clients with little effort. It’s because I can present the problem and solution in a different light than my client is used to seeing. In the end, their response is often the same: “Wow, that was not so complicated.”

Best use of big-picture thinking: Shake off the daily grind.

1 2 3 Next »