Joseph Butler, an Anglican bishop in the 1700s, once said that “The first thought is often the best.” Vittorio Alfieri, the author known as the founder of the “Italian tragedy,” came along a few years later with a different take: Sempre il miglior non è il parer primiero, he said, or “First thoughts are not always the best.”
Both were correct! And there, in a nutshell, you have the case for the importance of making the most of our mindset. Our character, to paraphrase the English author James Allen, is the complete sum of our thoughts. So we’d better have a good grip on what we’re thinking!
Several of the speakers at this year’s Global Leadership Summit hit on this important theme, so I thought I’d share four lessons on mindset from four of these thought-leaders. See what you think.
Your thinking influences your power to influence.
Deb Liu, president and CEO of Ancestry and the author of Take Back Your Power, described real power as the ability for us to influence the events and people around us. And we all have this power even though most of us don’t think we do. For instance, if we’re thinking about our failures rather than the lessons we learn from our failures, we aren’t likely to respond well to those failures. If we’re thinking about our legacy and the impact we want to have on others, meanwhile, we are more likely to create that vision with our influence.
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Don’t think you can fake your leadership.
I laughed so hard that it hurt while listening to the message from Judah Smith, a pastor from Seattle who, ironically, was talking about on leading with pain. He talked about leading with “our limp.” In other words, don’t try to show some perfect version of yourself that doesn’t exist. People want to know the real leader in you. And if you think you can fake it, you’re wrong.
Adopt a growth mindset.
Heidi Grant, a social psychologist, offered some practical ideas for adopting a growth mindset that allows you to challenge yourself and think more deeply, and creatively, all of which leads to perseverance that leads to insights and innovation. One way to change to a growth mindset, she said, is by simply adding the word “yet” to every negative sentence. “I’m not good at this … yet.” Another tip is to pay attention to the words you use by describing your tasks as growing, developing, progressing, improving, or becoming. Instead of saying, “I want to have healthy habits,” for instance, say, “I want to develop healthy habits.” Focus on progress and improvement.
Don’t let an impostor do your thinking.
One of the most common fears for leaders is known as imposter syndrome. It’s the fear that that takes hold of your thinking and convinces you that you are a fraud and unworthy of your role as a leader. Ron Howard struggled with this while going from child actor to acclaimed director. He overcame it, he said, by becoming more open and collaborative. By listening to and respecting the thoughts of others, he not only discovered ideas to implement but consistently created a culture of mutual respect so that no one felt like a fraud.
None of these speakers, by the way, weighed in on whether your first thought is the best thought. In giving that matter some thought, however, I think I agree with John Henry Newman. So I’ll make his thought the final word: “It is often said that second thoughts are best. So they are in matters of judgment, but not in matters of conscience. In matters of duty, first thoughts are commonly best. They have more in them of the voice of God.”