Executive Master of Leadership Blog

Leadership Thinking: Cultivating mental discipline to solve problems

[fa icon="calendar'] Apr 25, 2019 9:07:00 AM / by Laree Kiely

Laree Kiely
, President of WeWill Inc., taught the Executive Master of Leadership class how to cultivate mental discipline and how to think like a leader to solve complex problems. This is part 1 of 2.

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What is mental discipline?

One of the most important concepts today for leadership is to try to figure out the idea of mental discipline. How do we use our brains and how do we ask our brains to help us more than we typically do?

Our brains tend to take off without us. They tend to go back to the limbic system and go for fight, flight, or freeze, or they go to the emotions.

Incoming information is a heat-seeking missile and it seeks feelings, but we have to be a little bit more rational about them. You don't want to get rid of emotions, that's what makes us profoundly human, they're just not the best way to make decisions in the front end.

Mental discipline is really about readiness. When something happens that we haven't experienced before we need to look at it with new eyes, we need to think about it rationally and logically. Every decision we make has a ripple effect that has an upside and a downside.

Ask yourself:

  1. Where is this possibly going to go?
  2. If I make a decision on this, what's the ripple effect?


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How can we develop mental discipline?

Mental discipline includes different kinds of thinking. It demands an open mind. It demands a spirit of curiosity. It also demands creative thinking, and then critical thinking. Critical thinking comes after creative thinking, because as important as logic, rationality, and critical thinking are, they are the enemy of creativity. Only once we've thought creatively about a situation does rational thinking kick in.

I, Satyakamk [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]What is systems thinking?

Then we think in terms of systems. Systems thinking is an understanding of each part that adds up to a greater whole. Whenever we make a decision to implement something new, it's going to have a ripple effect on the whole system.

Systems thinking is absolutely fascinating. Any little change you make in the system has a ripple effect in the whole system.

Can we anticipate what those ripple effects are going to be? If they're going to be negative, even if we have to go ahead, how do we mitigate those circumstances so we don't have unexpected ripple effects down the line such as creating enemies or dysfunctional outcomes.

What is strategic thinking?

And then we also have to add strategic thinking. And strategic thinking really has to do with what's our goal? What's our end goal that we have in mind and what are the best strategies to get there?

There are all kinds of different pieces of thinking that have to be integrated together. Mental discipline is what we would call integrated thinking, using all the mental tools we can have, or that we have at our disposal, to really think things through well.

And that's just individually. We also have to learn how to think things through together. And that adds up to what we call neurodiversity.

"Our brain is as unique as our fingerprint."


What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is fascinating, because if you want to look at real honest-to-goodness diversity, it isn't whether or not we look alike or have the same age or the same gender or any of those things. Diversity is like an N of 1; we are all different. Our brains are all wired uniquely based on our own personal experiences, the way we were born, the experiences we had, the people we grew up around, the people who taught us things, you name it. Our brain is as unique as our fingerprint.

Neurodiversity in the workplace

How do we use this collective ability for everybody's mental talents? The high-level mental talents, not just the limbic system that's kind of primitive, but the high-level mental talents. How do we use those talents collectively to come up with or to co-create solutions that are good for everybody, that allow for us having different values or beliefs.

Next, how do we recognize and forget the idea of the zero sum game; the idea that there's not enough to go around so there has to be a winner and a loser. That's the primitive part of our brain coming in. Most things are not finite. Most things have enough to go around. We don't have to agree with each other and beat each other up trying to make sure we have the same values.

This country was based on it being okay to have different values and co-exist.

All we have to do is figure out what is the best interest of what we care about and what do we do going forward? We may actually decide to do the same thing for totally different reasons, and now we've got some breakthrough around this kind of polarization that we constantly see.

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Topics: Organizational Culture, Leadership Skills

Laree Kiely

Written by Laree Kiely

President of WeWill and The Kiely Group--Organizational Effectiveness Consultants--serves on the executive program faculties of Duke CE, USC Sol Price School, Thunderbird International Business School, Ivey University (Toronto, Canada), and UCLA in the field of executive leadership and organizational development bridging all four sectors: Government, Non-Profit, Education, and Corporate/Private.

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