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How Successful Leaders Think

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How Successful Leaders Think


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Nowadays the concept of leadership and effective leadership qualities is one of the most interesting topics for discussion as in contemporary highly competitive world it is necessary to become effective leader to succeed in business and to ensure better future. In the article “How Successful Leaders Think” Roger Martin discusses what it means to be successful leader and provides valuable recommendations how to achieve the desired outcome. The stories of effective and successful leaders invigorate the public.

Only strong-willed, hard-working and shrewd people may become really effective leaders. Actually, a leader is a person who directs and helps others to perform their job mote than they ever have thought possible.  Leadership doesn’t mean to tell what to do; leadership is the ability to inspire the team, to see what they are capable of and to help the team to work coherently and harmoniously. Nonetheless, Martin argues that the concept of what a leader should do is often misplaced and misinterpreted.

He points that integrative thinking is the key to successful leadership as it offers radically new approach to decision-making process.

Identification of Key Learning Points

Roger Martin says that in search for lessons to be applied in professional career most people often tend to misinterpret what effective leadership is associated with. He explains that the focus is misinterpreted as key leadership qualities in one context may have little sense in another one. Thus, integrative thinking is a more complex approach to look at how successful leaders think. Martin arranged more than 50 interviews with successful leaders and discovered that their thinking was to be characterized as integrative thinking meaning effective leaders should be able to keep in heads two opposing ideas and to integrate them into new one that contains elements of two ideas, but is superior to them: “We look for lessons in the actions of great leaders. We should instead be examining what goes on in their heads—particularly the way they creatively build on the tensions among conflicting ideas”. (Martin) The author recommends referring to the processes of synthesis and consideration instead of faultless execution or superior strategy. The process of synthesis is the hallmark of effective businesses and leaders who are running them. The author defends the position of integrative thinking examining how they approach decision-making. Actually, their decision-making process is based on four stages.

·         Firstly, integrative thinkers go beyond those that is obviously relevant and understandable when determining the salient features of the problem;

·         Secondly, non-liner and multi-directional relations are considered instead of focusing on just liner ones.

·         Thirdly, integrative thinkers tend to embrace the whole problem and fit all its part together.

·         Finally, integrative thinkers are able to smooth the roughs between opposing ideas synthesizing them and generating original idea.

There is an idea that not everyone is able to become an effective leader or leader at all as not all people possess the required skills, knowledge and ability to self-develop. However, Martin claims that everyone can hone the idea of integrative thinking. As illustration Martin draws on examples of effective business who has managed to cope with integrative thinking. Bob Young is co-founder of Red Hat – one of the dominant distributors of Linux open-source software. Martin stresses that from the very beginning of Young’s professional career he recognized that he hadn’t t choose between two prevailing business models. Instead, he was inspired by both models and developed a new software model for corporate customers. As a result, it is integrative thinking that has place Bob Young and Red Hat on the road to tremendous success. Thus, the secret of becoming a successful leader is rooted in understanding not to act like one, but to think like one. To become integrative thinker means to resists simplicity and certainty as they are associated with conventional and traditional thinking. Instead, being integrative thinker means embracing the complexity of conflicting ides and to look beyond obvious considerations and assumptions. As a result, leaders will be able to generate a wealth of profitable solutions rather than making unattractive trade-offs. However, what are the key differences between conventional and integrative thinking. Roger Martin specifies four differences:

·         Conventional thinking is based on considering obviously relevant factors when weighting the ideas, whereas integrative thinking is based on seeking less obviously relevant factors, integrative thinking aims at finding potentially relevant considerations;

·         Conventional thinking is based on linear and one-way relations between the options – A produces B, whereas integrative thinking is based on multi-directional relations;

·         Conventional thinking tends to make the problem broken into pieces and to find proper solution to each piece, whereas integrative thinking promotes seeing the problem as a whole meaning to examine various aspects that are very likely to affect one another;

·         Conventional thinking is based on making either-or choices, whereas integrative thinking tends to avoid conventional options.

Application of Key Learning Points

The concept of integrative thinking can be widely applied to a business simulation experiences. The first example is Bob Young and his Red Hat. It means that integrative thinking can be applied to every business situation, when leader is required to choose from two obviously relevant options. According to Martin, in such situation leader should synthesize elements of two options and generate the third one. Integrative thinking, thus, is applied to encourage innovations. Secondly, integrative thinking can be applied to analyzing causality, when it is necessary to analyze complex relations among profitability, distribution and pricing. Thirdly, integrated thinking can be applied to envisioning the overall structure of decision. For example, when bob Young held several issues about concerns, dynamics and corporate markets, he didn’t divide them into three separate problems. Instead, he considered the problems as interrelated whole. Finally, integrative thinking can be applied to achieving the most efficient resolution, when conventional approaches to decision-making fail to produce the desired outcome.


Successful leadership is professionalism and true leaders find ways to improve their qualities. Integrative thinking is viewed as the key to effective and successful leadership as it offers radically new vision of complex problems, tensions between opposing ideas and decision-making process. In contrast to conventional thinking, integrative thinking considers the problem as the whole and aims at finding such a solution that will suit each piece of the problem instead of finding separate solutions to each piece. Synthesis and consideration should replace conventional execution and superior strategy. Further, successful leaders prefer integrative thinking as it helps to develop and utilize business models and to drive action in messy world. The model of integrative thinking promotes multi-directional and casual relations between salient options. Successful leaders are requires to develop integrative thinking to achieve their success. In future, integrative thinking may be used not only in business, but in other spheres as, for example, technologies, music and art. More extensive research is needed to develop strategies to teach integrative thinking and to underline its importance in highly-competitive business world. The example of Bob Young shows that integrative thinking does work and it is effective on the road to success.


Martin, Roger. (2007, June). How Successful Leaders Think. Harvard Business Review, retrieved November 19, 2008, from http://www.hbr.org/hbsp/hbr/articles/article.jsp?articleID=R0706C&ml_action=get-article&print=true


Cite this How Successful Leaders Think

How Successful Leaders Think. (2016, Oct 10). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/how-successful-leaders-think/

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