Harvard Business Review: Psychology of Ted Strickland is spot-on

This New York Times’ What’s Offline Saturday feature couldn’t back up my opinion about how Governor Ted Strickland has been making his moves, or holding his cards better if I’d paid them to write it:

[Dean of the University of Toronto Business School, Roger] Martin contends that the more beneficial thing to do [rather than examine a leader’s actions, to help us improve work life, make better decisions or plan our careers] is study how great leaders think.

He has, and he has concluded that they process information differently than the rest of us do.

“They have the predisposition and the capacity to hold in their head two opposing ideas at once,” he writes. “And then, without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other, they’re able to creatively resolve the tension between those two ideas by generating a new one that contains elements of the others but is superior to both.”

Martin expounds on this idea in The Harvard Business Review June 2007 article, How Successful Leaders Think, which appears to be a teaser for his forthcoming book, The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking, due out 12/07. I might not be into extreme sports or extreme journalism, but I’m definitely into extreme multi- and interdisciplinary education and experience. Martin’s book sounds like a treatise that runs tangential to that passion and could help us determine whether Strickland and his team are integrative thinkers.

Remainder of the tease from the NYT:

Mr. Martin calls this process of consideration and synthesis “integrative thinking,” and contends that it is this ability and not a “superior strategy or faultless execution that is the defining characteristic of most exceptional businesses and the people who run them.”

Intriguingly, Mr. Martin, who interviewed 50 exemplary leaders in doing his research, says many successful executives aren’t aware that this is the way they go about processing information.

I completely believe that. Gathering, accessing and synthesizing information is the only way some of us know how to approach an issue. Anything else feels incomplete, inadequate and doomed to failure. Likewise, if you never buy it when someone refuses to flesh out a problem and instead says, “It’s complicated” – really meaning that someone doesn’t want to give an answer, doesn’t know the answer or is too lazy to take the time to explain the problem, then you’re probably an integrative thinker too.

Of course, intergrative thinking can also lead to procrastination and completion problems because you seek to identify every possible perspective and ways to include or mitigate them. But that’s another HBR story.

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