How You Think Is How You Lead

Roger Schwarz

You’re probably undermining what you are trying to accomplish with your team – and you don’t know it.

To find out, take this one-question quiz:

You need your team to agree on a new strategy. You have strong opinions about the best way to go, but you need everyone’s commitment to make the strategy work, so you want to make sure that the team “buys in”. But when you and your team are solving a problem together, a number of team members stop sharing different views after you have shared yours. To address this problem, which of these do you do?

  1. Assure the team that you value their ideas and that the team’s strength comes from its diverse views.
  2. Ask for team members’ views first and share your views last.
  3. Offer to leave the room because you sense that some people aren’t speaking their minds.
  4. Tell the team as a group what you’ve noticed and why you’re raising the topic, and ask them what is leading them not to share their different views.
  5. Talk one-on-one to a team member that you trust and ask what’s going on.

Highly effective leaders – formal and informal – use core values to build results and relationships. Let’s look at how your quiz answer matches these core values.


Effective leaders are curious about what others are thinking. They believe that others may see things that they are missing, so they ask genuine questions to learn. If you chose answers 1 or 3, you’re not asking any questions, so you’re missing the chance to learn why people aren’t speaking up. The problem will remain – or get reinforced.


Effective leaders are transparent. They share what they are thinking – including why they are saying what they are saying and doing what they are doing. If you chose answers 1 or 2, you’re not being transparent about why you’re assuring them or why you’re sharing your views last. You’re keeping your strategy private. Other team members won’t learn your true concerns – so the problem won’t get addressed. And your lack of transparency will lead people to mistrust you. If you chose answer 3, you’re being partly transparent about why you’re leaving the room, but not completely. You’re not saying specifically which members you are concerned about, which creates misunderstanding.


Being accountable means that you feel an obligation to explain your views and actions to others and others have a duty to do the same with you. This obligation is in the spirit of improving the team’s ability to work together. If you chose answer 5, you’re being accountable to one person, but not to the team; nor are you asking the team to be accountable to you. As a result, any solution you develop with this one person may not have the group’s commitment to implement. If you’re not being transparent, you can’t be accountable, so answers 1 and 2 don’t meet this principle. If you chose answer 3, you’re not asking those who have stopped disagreeing with you to explain their thinking.

Informed Choice.

Leaders who have courage understand that teams can only work together easily when people have the courage to raise the hard issues. Leaders with courage move directly toward these conflicts and undiscussable issues rather than trying to defuse or avoid them. This means naming what is happening in the team and working through it. Only answer 4 demonstrates this courage.


When leaders practice compassion, they temporarily suspend judgment about others so they can understand and appreciate others’ perspectives – even when they disagree with others. This sort of compassion still holds people accountable; it doesn’t try to rescue them or save face for them or yourself. If you chose answers 1, 2, 3, or 5, you protect yourself, others, or both, and don’t get to the heart of the matter. That’s more collusion that compassion.

If you chose answer 4, you’re being courageous by raising a tough issue, curious about what is leading others to be quiet, transparent about your concerns, accountable to the group and vice versa, and doing all of this in a way that suspends judgment so you can learn what is causing the problem, including how you might be contributing to it.

The Mutual Learning approach is not techniques or tools. It requires changing how you think so you can change how you lead and get better results and relationships.

Originally published March 2007