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There’s plenty of evidence – and even more good advice – that says “thinking like a leader” is a worthy habit for any project manager who wants to help his or her team rise to the occasion and exceed expectations.

However, where’s harder to find in the ocean of leadership wisdom and lore are what those “leadership thoughts” ought to be. In other words, how do leaders think? What words do they say to themselves and to others to shape their contribution, attitude and perspective?

To answer this, we scanned some of the available literature and asked a few experts to identify 4 fundamental “leadership thoughts” that leaders rely upon to achieve exceptional results. Here they are:

1. “I need to be able to see the REAL problem here.” Leaders understand that being able to solve problems isn’t enough; they must be able to solve the REAL problem, which could be obvious or, sometimes, subtle or systemic. They appreciate that it might take some digging, analysis, discussion and reflection to uncover what’s really wrong — so they communicate it to those who will play a meaningful role in resolving it.

2. “My role here is to position and empower, not to instruct and implement.” Leaders realize that even though they may, and often do, have the skills to solve a problem, their role is essentially a leadership one – and that means their focus is on positioning people and empowering them to succeed.  Leaders win through the positive actions of others.

3. “I need to lead myself if I expect to lead others.” Leaders understand that they are not merely charged with leading others – they must also lead themselves. That means they are constantly looking for ways to improve and do better, regardless of how successful they may be at the present time. This continuous improvement can take the form of acquiring more knowledge and skills, forming positive new habits (or getting rid of bad ones), or anything else. The instant leaders stop leading themselves, they lose the moral authority to lead others.

4. “How am I demonstrating that I care?” In hectic, deadline-driven projects where most people don’t have time to finish his or her coffee or have more than a 10-minute conversation, things like “caring for others” can seem optional, or even quaint. However, leaders understand that authentic, genuine caring is the glue that holds the bonds of projects together. Leaders have to be vigilant when it comes to asking themselves not just whether they care, but HOW they are showing they care in both small and big ways.

Some Additional Thoughts

There’s no suggestion here that anyone can simply adopt the “leadership thoughts” described above and magically become a leader. Obviously, leaders must be thoroughly competent – because if they aren’t, all of the positive self-talk in the world isn’t going to compensate for that, and they’ll soon find themselves replaced by someone who knows what they’re doing.

With that being said, the ideas above are offered as ways in which legitimate, talented leaders can take their contribution to an even higher level. When that happens, we won’t just see a boost in the number of projects that arrive at the finish line on time, on budget, and in scope, but we’ll also see many, many more project team members with smiles on their faces who are inspired to do their very best – and perhaps even a bit better than that.