Leadership patterns: Successful leaders tend to think in a very similar way

Successful leaders tend to think in a very similar way. If you study the thought patterns of the top 20 richest businessmen in the world, you will spot some very distinct similarities. Even though they come from different industries and follow distinct paths to their massive success, you can connect their thought patterns. The most successful men in the world have always been bold thinkers. If not in innovating new ways of doing things to make them more effective, they have created value by coming up with new systems. Some, like Einstein, took a leap of imagination, came up with scientific theories, and expanded humankind’s understanding of the world we live in. Every aspiring leader needs to adopt this kind of bold thinking if they hope to achieve even a fraction of what the likes of Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates, just to name a few, have achieved.

In this plengdut.com topic, we will focus on discovering the thought patterns that made the most successful managers successful. We will start with decision-making before moving to more sophisticated systems of thought, including the Bayesian concept and reverse thinking. We will illustrate how distinguished thinking leads to successful careers wherever one may decide to establish their career. To do this, we will rely heavily on the life stories of some of the most successful thought leaders in the world, including Ray Dalio, Elon Musk, and Albert Einstein.

Decision-Making 102 

In your capacity as a manager, you will be required to answer hundreds of questions every day. You will also make numerous decisions with far-reaching impacts. Every decision you make as a manager will affect the employees you lead, the company you work for, and the customers you serve. You can no longer take decision-making lightly. At the same time, the sheer volume of decisions you will be asked to make calls for the ability to make great decisions in half the time. In “DecisionMaking 101,” we addressed the fallacious perceptions of decision-making that most people have in which they have a bloated idea of their ability to decide while disparaging other people’s choices. In this section, we will look at the exact strategies you can follow to improve your decision-making skills. What follows is a systematic master plan that will streamline your administrative functions and make you a better leader.


As much as you need to make them, the small decisions in life tend to have a very serious clattering effect on your brain. They drain your mental energy so that you cannot dedicate the entirety of your mind to the important things. From the analysis of the decision-making habits of great managers, you will realize that they eliminate these questions from the word go, freeing up their time to more important pursuits. The solution is to cut down the hundreds of small decisions you will be required to make every day to a few huge critical ones. In the study of systemizing, we will study the habits of the previous president of America Barrack Obama.

As the manager of the world’s biggest economy, there was obviously a lot of demands on President Obama’s time. The decisions he made would affect the whole world, so it was even more important that he made the right ones. By cutting down decisions like his wake-up time, morning routine, the clothes he would wear to the office (he only wore blue or gray), and the breakfast he ate, he was able to save his mental energy for the hundreds of more important decisions he would make on a daily basis. It may not seem like much, but a routine like this one can go a long way in improving your decision-making capabilities. When paired with the other strategies that we will discuss in this section, it will play a huge part in transforming you into the kind of manager you have always wanted to become.
As the manager of the world’s biggest economy, there was obviously a lot of demands on President Obama’s time. The decisions he made would affect the whole world, so it was even more important that he made the right ones. By cutting down decisions like his wake-up time, morning routine, the clothes he would wear to the office (he only wore blue or gray), and the breakfast he ate, he was able to save his mental energy for the hundreds of more important decisions he would make on a daily basis. It may not seem like much, but a routine like this one can go a long way in improving your decision-making capabilities. When paired with the other strategies that we will discuss in this section, it will play a huge part in transforming you into the kind of manager you have always wanted to become.


If I could give you a strategy to improve your decision-making capabilities, I would use “vision.” When you make decisions based on a clearly defined vision, you will cut down on a big chunk of discordant decisions that you will be asked to make. This is how it works: As soon as you take up the managerial position, you sit down and draft a vision for yourself and the department. This vision should take into account the overall vision and mission statements of the company so that whatever vision you write will fit your job description. Be as detailed as possible about the different dreams and goals you hope to achieve. 

You can work within the time frames set by the company, or you can create your own. Be careful not to overestimate your abilities or underestimate the time needed to accomplish a particular objective. That is the worst rookie mistake you could ever make, and it might cause you untold problems. Any time you are faced with a question or decision, you will have a very specific way of answering it. You will simply ask yourself, “Does the action that results from this decision align with my vision?” If it does not align, your decision is made for you; and if it does, you can then set about attempting to accomplish it.

Being Resolute 

One of the worst things you can do as a leader is to walk back on your decision. It gives the impression that you are weak and unsure of yourself, which can, in turn, undermine your leadership. However, there is a difference between being resolute and being stubborn. Stubbornness is when you continue holding on to a belief even after it has been proven to be wrong. It endangers your team, vision, and career because you could be holding on to a wrong decision. Your superiors might not look very kindly at resoluteness if it ends up costing their company money. In fact, it is the definition of a wise person to be able to accept it when they make mistakes and work to correct them. The way decision-making works is that if you make your decision right, you will not have to revise it for anything. 

Therefore, resoluteness is created in the backend of decisions. When you evaluate the data, take care of all loose ends, and consult with the experts to make a decision. You will have all the incentive to stick it out. This is the difference between an unpopular decision and a wrong one. An unpopular decision will be validated in the end, so you should definitely stick it out despite initial opposition. Soon enough, you will be validated as a visionary. Some of the most successful businesses of today were once considered to be terrible ideas before they were proven to be visionary. When Steve Jobs made the decision to start designing the Macintosh, he was determined to make it the best-selling personal computer in the market. The decision was so unpopular that he was fired from his own company. Today, Apple is the only company in the world to have reached a market capitalization of $1 trillion.

The company has been able to reach these great heights by capitalizing on the Macintosh technology Steve Jobs had once been fired for pursuing. Talk about vilification! In conclusion, the best way to make the hundreds of decisions that you, as the manager, usually have to make on a daily basis is not to do everything by yourself. When creating a vision, ensure that the employees understand the common goal and base their actions on it. You can then focus on strategic planning and supervision for greater success. 

This also means that your department works as a system rather than as an extension of you. When a system is in place and functioning well, you can usually take off without worrying that things will go wrong. It is when things start going awry as soon as you are out of the office that you should be concerned.

Mental Models for Systematized Decision-Making 

When creating a systemized decision-making and thought process, we try to prioritize outcomes. The idea is to create a system that allows you to maximize outcome with minimal time and capital resources. Systemizing should follow the thinking process listed below: In the first step of establishing a systemized decision-making organization, you reflect on the vision and mission of your company. This allows you to identify the work process that is involved in the accomplishment of various tasks. The outline of the work systems should be work centered; otherwise, you will just entangle yourself more in the process. Second, you come up with an objective statement, paying attention to the strengths, weaknesses, goals, and the strategies you think would make it possible to attain the goals. You can then make a general operating procedure made out of work procedures to accomplish the most common tasks around the workplace. The procedures should be sensible, practical, and simple for every employee to understand. 

The third and final process in systemizing the decision-making procedure in the workplace is to ensure that you keep tweaking it. Constant updating will enable you to cut off redundant procedures, add new ones as needed, and keep everything perfectly up-to-date. When the system no longer serves its purpose of freeing you up from the hundreds of decisions you have to make daily, you must adjust. Studies have shown that highly successful people all put in place systems to help them save time in order to improve their personal performance. The Pareto principle applies to decision-making meaning that 90% of the decisions we make apply to 10% of the most intense job activities we engage in at the workplace. As for specific mental models, the best one to apply for decision-making is the Eisenhower matrix. Eisenhower was the supreme commander of the US forces in World War II and 34th president of the United States. He was a highly productive leader, achieving great things both in his military and political career. His life was organized using the four-part box matrix denoting activities that fell into different categories of urgency and importance.

The first box contains focus tasks. It contains the most urgent and most important tasks in your diary. These ones should be prioritized over all other tasks and be done as soon as possible. The importance of the tasks that fall here means that a leader ought to address them personally. The second box is for your goals. The tasks that go here are very important but not urgent. You can set a future time to do them and carry on with the urgent for the meantime. Any good goals in this category move into the focus box as soon as they become urgent. The third box of the Eisenhower matrix contains fit-in tasks. The tasks in this box are urgent but unimportant.

You can get away with delegating them to your assistant or any other employee in your team. Finally, we have the backburner box. It contains the tasks that are neither urgent nor important. They are mere distractions that you should eliminate so you can focus on tasks that are more important. The problem with many managers is that they waste a lot of their energy and time on the third and fourth boxes instead of focusing on the first and second ones. As a result, their productivity suffers. The only decisions you should make are the ones in the important boxes. With proper insight and planning, you can also eliminate the urgency from your decision-making by focusing on the goals box. This is especially critical if you do not perform well under pressure.

The Common Mistakes of Beginning Leaders 

The skillset that got you to the manager’s office will not keep you there or take you to the next step in your career. For most managers, the first few months or years of their job is spent making mistakes and learning from them. However, if you know these mistakes going in, you can probably save yourself some trouble and propel your career to great heights right away. In this section, we shall look at some of the common mistakes that beginner leaders make that impede their progress as leaders. It is meant to be a guide for you to avoid repeating them. 

You Try to Prove to The Whole Office That You Are the Best

After a promotion, it is very common for the new manager to feel the need to validate themselves. This is especially common if you beat out some serious competition to clinch the office. As a result, most new managers will continue to perform their old technical job long into the managerial position. What they do not seem to understand is that management is a completely new ballgame. Your priority as a manager should be to support other technical workers and help them reach maximum potential. Continued performance of the old functions even when you are expected to do other things communicates to the senior managers that you are not very confident in your own abilities to manage. You waste so much time proving that you deserve the promotion that you bomb it.

You Go Out of Your Way to Show Everybody that You Are in Control

The natural instinct for a newly promoted manager is to go around doing things that indicate to everyone that you are in charge. In this mistake, most new managers will veto good ideas because they did not come from them, stubbornly push their bad ideas on everyone, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. What they do not seem to understand is that everyone gets that they are the new boss. Not everyone agrees—in fact, most people will have a very passionate idea about who would have been a better candidate to promote in your place, but everyone is acutely aware that you are the new boss. When you go out of your way to show that you are in charge, you waste time and energy that could better be employed in creating a rapport with solid strategies and vision. In fact, the more you try to show your employees that you are in charge, the more resentment you will generate. 

You Immediately Embark on A Mission to Change Everything Overnight

Unless you are Jack Welch and you have complete control of your department, going about your new job as if your predecessor did everything wrong hurts your credibility. When you are just a small part of a system, you have to show some regard to the system. Anything else sends the message that you do not respect the efforts that went into setting it up, which is an indictment of every employee that worked on it before. If you want to bring some changes, a better strategy is to invite the team to suggest changes, combine them with your own ideas, and then gradually put them in place.

You Fail to Establish A Rapport With Your Team

When you go into a new job as the outsider manager, you will have to take the time to know your team so that you can work at earning their trust. When you are promoted in your current job, you will probably alienate other peers who felt they deserved the promotion just as much. In both instances, you will have to reach out to create a rapport. However gifted you might be, you cannot accomplish anything without a team to support you; the team is indispensable. A one-on-one sit-in with every member of your team is a great place to start. It allows you to measure everyone up to identify their strengths, weaknesses, and career aspirations. Knowing all this information comes in handy because these people will likely occupy key positions and come in handy in helping you achieve your master plan for the department. 

You Take Everyone at Their Word

Now that you are the manager, the common employee will start viewing you as the establishment. Even if you worked in the company before your promotion, your old friends would start acting differently around you. At least until your relationship adjusts back to its old level (if it ever does), expect to be “boss” and not “Ronnie” or “Rick.” Being lied to is one thing that comes with the new territory of being boss. Therefore, you must listen with your eyes as well as your ears to avoid getting taken for a ride. Even if you are a straight shooter, chances are you were not 100% with your old boss either. There were some things that you kept from them, and you probably exaggerated the difficulty of getting a task done to get fairer terms too. In fact, you will probably have some fun as you watch people act in a way that you have always done, thinking that you are none the wiser. As long as it does not hurt anyone, you can let the small things slide, which is actually another mistake that new managers make.

You Expect Too Much from Your Employees

You have probably gotten to the position you are in now because you worked yourself to the bone, observing long hours and going out of your way for the job. The sooner you understand that not everyone has the same work ethic as you, the better it will be for you. Some people only work because they need to pay the bills; otherwise, they would not be seen within a mile of the office. Not everyone cares about impressing the boss or delivering the best work on every project. Some are perfectly content with simply finishing the project and not being fired. It falls on you to motivate them to care more about their work. You will get more out of your employees if you can find a way to get them to care about the work, not just the rewards. 

You Micromanage Your Employees

Very few employees would have micromanagement among the list of the most endearing habits a manager could have. In most cases, employees feel that having someone even check their work is an insult. When you assign a task to an employee and then keep checking in on them, what you communicate is that you do not trust them enough to deliver. Good bosses leave their doors open to any employee who needs guidance on any part of the task, but they leave them to their own means for as much as possible. If you are the micromanaging kind of person, a better option is to establish checkpoints when handing out the assignment in the first place. This way, you can correct any mistakes that might appear early on instead of when the whole task has been completed.

You Treat All Employees the Same Way

Fairness is a virtue worth having, but there is a difference between equality and equitability. Among the people you manage, you will have the highly motivated and dedicated, the highly talented but unmotivated, and the ones who only do enough to deserve their paycheck among many others. You cannot treat all these people the same way. The thing that makes one employee feel valued (e.g., asking how their night/weekend was) could make another feel like you are intruding on their privacy. For some employees, extra work means you believe in them and is an endorsement of their skills, but for others, it is a punishment. If you do not know the difference between these two types of employees, it will get very tough when you get the need to pass on some work to an employee. As far as fairness goes, this is the most important area of managing a group of employees. Getting this wrong could result in resentment that stretches far into the future. 

You Do Not Lead by the Coach’s Credo

The coach’s credo is a mental model in which the leader takes the blame for the things that go wrong but attributes all success to the team. The coach’s credo is the ultimate leadership mental model. It heaps all the responsibility on you when responsibility is especially hard to bear and demands heaps of grace to share the praise when the praise is sweetest. If you can live by the coach’s credo, you will prove your credibility as a leader to the whole team beyond a shred of doubt.

Mental Models to Prevent Mistakes 

The common mistakes that new managers make are avoidable simply by avoiding them, but the mistakes associated with decision-making are rather difficult to dodge. But in all due fairness, mistakes are unavoidable when you are trying to do something important. In fact, in a way, it is the mistakes that make you know that you are trying something worth trying. Many (if not all) of the most successful business managers have failed at one point in their career. It is the power to continue trying that sets them apart from everyone else. The happy coincidence about mental models is that they can be used to multitask. For example, the mental models that you need to adopt to avoid the common mistakes of new managers listed above are far fewer than the mistakes they prevent. And when you apply mental models to any process of your job, the benefits stretch far beyond the tasks involved with that particular process. In this section, we will touch on the mental models of Bayesian thinking, lifelong learning, and reverse thinking as the ultimate mental models for new leaders who are intent on improving their decision-making capabilities as well as their job performance. 

Bayesian Thinking 

Every good decision-maker applies critical thinking to their decision-making process. It allows you to assess the issues at hand, scrutinize every option available, and choose the most suitable one. Bayesian thinking builds on this process by introducing the concept of probability to predict possible outcomes for every course of action. Formulated by Thomas Bayer, Bayesian thinking posits that no decision, strategy, or model is perfect in its current state. There is always room for improvement that comes from additional experimentation and improvement. Bayesian thinking has been applied in military search-and-rescue operations and on the battlefield to come up with the best strategies to win a battle. Essentially, every event presents an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of the original strategy. Managers who use Bayesian mental models to make their decisions are not afraid to make changes when it proves to be flawed. In turn, the decision stops being a personal choice you made and takes on a life of its own. When a change is made, it is not an indictment on your decision-making capabilities. Instead, it is an improvement of the same. This is the core principle in Bayesian thinking: situations are always changing, and a decision made any time in the past will be inaccurate to some extent now and will require to be updated so that it reflects the reality.

Applying Bayesian thinking to your work as a new manager means that whenever you make a mistake, you can make a change without feeling like a total fraud. Studies have shown that the biggest impact on decision-making is the personal element whereby a person loses confidence in their ability to do something when a previous mistake is discovered. Doctors who are sued for malpractice are more likely to make a fatal mistake on the operating table because their confidence has been shaken. The same applies to managers. Normally, a previous decision that turns out to have been wrong makes you doubt yourself and either makes you make more bad decisions or stop making decisions altogether. Bayesian principles applied in thinking makes you recognize the exact areas of your choice that did not work out. This is called fluidity, and it posits that any opinion or decision that is turned around by new information is better than the last. Of course, you have to be willing to acknowledge your mistakes and assimilate new evidence for it to work. There is nothing to be ashamed about in a bad decision when you are willing to pivot. In fact, a bad decision has led to better things down the road. 

When he was starting out with SpaceX, Elon Musk decided that the best strategy to get into the space rocket business was to use old capsules from the Russian space program to make his own. He tried numerous times to purchase these old capsules but failed every time. Instead of giving up and writing it off as a bad idea, Musk instead came back home and decided that he would make his rockets himself. This decision again appeared to have been wrong when more than ten of the first rockets he launched failed. One of these failed rocket launches crashed with millions worth of equipment belonging to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) international space center. All through these bad decisions, Elon went back to the drawing board and adjusted until he finally got it right.

Reverse Thinking 

Reverse thinking is a creative method of brainstorming that you can use to bring some fun in your team. Usually, brainstorming calls for participants to wrack their brains for the best possible strategy to do something. The increased pressure often makes it even harder for people to think. With reverse thinking, you turn thinking around and start with the worst possible ideas to accomplish something. You will realize that most people come up with ideas that are more creative when thinking in the negative. You then work backward from there to formulate a strategy to accomplish an objective. Reverse thinking is also great for coming up with a worst-case scenario to help you focus on the goals you set. When used in this way, reverse thinking taps into another mental model known as loss aversion to motivate us into action. Loss aversion states that the emotions associated with losing are usually twice as great as those associated with gain are. In a similar style, the prospect of losing something motivates us to work harder than the hope of achieving something. 

As a manager, you can use reverse thinking and loss aversion to make decisions by comparing the cost of not doing anything. Usually, the decision with the biggest opportunity costs also has the highest rewards. When you do not know what path to take, what better way to move forward than to think of the path you do not want to take? Even more encouragingly, reverse thinking has been listed by Charlie Munger as one of the mental models he uses to find investment and run Berkshire Hathaway in his book Poor Charlie’s Almanac.  The reason why Charlie Munger uses reverse thinking is that it plays into loss aversion, which in turn affects stock investing in a massive way. Many novice investors have fallen victim to the negative effects of loss aversion.

Some have sold their stocks at a loss when a little patience could have gone a long way in increasing their profitability. Others sell their most profitable stocks for fear of making a loss even when market trends indicate higher prices are yet to come. The worst are investors who hold on to loss-making shares past the make-sense price levels because they don’t want to suffer a loss and would rather wait for the stock price to rise before selling. In the end, they usually end up losing even more money. The same conundrum exists in the decision-making processes of managers. With every decision you make, there is the possibility of adverse events. If you are to take the time to consider all options, you could end up frozen and unable to make a decision. However, as soon as you start reverse assessing your options, the options will become clearer and, ultimately, easier to take. 

Lifelong Learning 

The concept of lifelong learning is as simple as it sounds. It states that we learn something new from every new encounter. Whether you make a mistake or you do something right, you can use this to make yourself a better manager by recording every part of your engagements. You will learn what to do from the triumphs and what not to do from failures. By adopting the mental model of lifelong learning, you take the sting out of losing and enjoy your wins a little more as you learn from both. Lifelong learning also means that you should read widely and endeavor to expand your knowledge base with lessons from those who have succeeded where you intend to venture.