Adam Grant’s 5 “Thinking Styles” Reveal the Key to Effective Leadership & Professional Growth. Most Struggle To Get It Right.



There’s a tug-of-war happening in business — one that’s riled leaders and pundits for decades. Here’s the crux: Are good leaders born or made?

If you  Google any variation of “what makes a good leader,” you’ll stumble over heaps of quotes from noteworthies in every industry corner and occupation. Colin Powell once said, “Effective leaders are made, not born. They learn from trial and error, and from experience.” Similar quotes are attributed to football great Vince Lombardi and novelist Margaret Atwood.

At the same, business coaches and consultants can be heard flipping that script. John Agno, for example, an accomplished business coach out of Michigan, said, “Leaders are born with an innate talent to question conventional wisdom.” Others lean heavily on innate abilities — like J. Bryan Bennett, executive director of Healthcare Center of Excellence. In his mind, humility is at the core of good leadership — and you can’t exactly teach that.

Which leads me to psychologist Adam Grant. As a reflective nod to the learnings of 2021, he recently tweeted something that caught my eye — a hierarchy of thinking styles. In this 5-tier pyramid, he reveals the how the vast majority of us process our day to day lives — and, consequently, grow or stagnate.

The apex is what we should all strive for, especially those in business ever seeking to innovate and expand. It’s simple, really: The best of the all thinkers are able to say, “I might be wrong.” They welcome outside voices, opinions, perspectives. They lean on evidence without dismissing emotional impact. In sum, they’re learners — they always want to know more. And that knowing is not just information gathering; it’s learning new processes, new systems, entirely new ways of thinking. The best thinkers are not afraid to overturn the proverbial apple cart.

Most of us, however, fall below the top tier of Grant’s pyramid. On our good days, we’re what Grant calls “critical thinkers”: those who collect information from different sources and are willing to question their own credibility. In my mind, this often leaves out the emotional component — a critical one if we accept that, as Simon Sinek has noted, that business is about human beings and relationships. Relationships are always, on some level, emotional.

If you follow the pyramid down, you’ll see likely see yourself reflected — at least occasionally. You have the contrarian, who refuses to accept that he or she is wrong; the politician, who loves to create us vs. them scenarios; and the cult leader who is deluded into thinking he/she has all the answers regardless of evidence to the contrary.

This breakdown of our thinking “personas” is a helpful tool for self-examination — not just at the start of the year or the start of a new business, but always. We should pin this pyramid up on our walls, tape it to our desks and monitors, and hang it up in conference rooms. We should always be thinking about how we’re thinking — because our temptation, unfortunately, is often to fall to the bottom where open-mindedness is squelched, data is dismissed, and our ego holds sway.

If growth, success, healthy relationships, and prospering business are at all on your priority list, then pay close attention to Grant’s pyramid — and recalibrate when you fall off the top.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.





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An open minded personality.. fun to be with, because of my positive vibes. God fearing, for without God I am nothing.. Moved with compassion when dealing with you, not selfish or self-centered...

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