Real Leaders

6 Ways to Think Like a Real Leader and Achieve Extraordinary Success

Swiss pilot and Chairman of the Solar Impulse sun-powered aircraft company Bertrand Piccard poses during a photo session in Paris on June 15, 2017. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)

It’s in Bertrand Piccard’s DNA to go beyond the obvious and achieve the impossible. From a legendary lineage of explorers who conquered the stratosphere and the deepest troughs of our oceans, he made history by accomplishing two aeronautical firsts: around the world non-stop in a balloon, and then again in a solar plane without fuel.

He’s a pioneer who challenges us to consider ecology through the lens of profitability, ever since he began working in the early 2000s to promote renewable energies and clean technologies. His dual identity as a psychiatrist and explorer makes him an influential voice heard by the largest institutions, which today consider him a forward-thinking leader in innovation and sustainability. The founder and chairman of the Solar Impulse Foundation, Piccard is also a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Environment and Special Advisor to the European Commission.

1. Develop a 360-Degree Awareness

When Bertrand was floating around the world in a hot air balloon, he realized the opportunities (the wind) lay above and below him. Staying the prisoner of a single altitude will result in lost opportunities and risk of failure.

Action: Keep aware of broader business conditions and trends beyond your own sector, and learn to seek out the hidden “currents” above and below you to keep moving forward. To be a real leader in life, you need to shed the dogmas and rigid ways of thought. Instead, try and explore all the different ways of thinking around a problem.

2. Find the Benefits Among Hard Choices

Look at the climate crisis in context over the past 50 years. There have been massive increases in production, waste, and inefficiency, leading to the ecological disaster we see today. Environmental activists became stuck at the wrong “altitude,” telling us that it would be costly to fix things and that we needed to reduce consumption, growth, and comfort, and create subsidies. The result? Nobody wanted to follow this unattractive path.

Action: Change your mindset and adopt the opposite approach: Solving the climate crisis can be profitable and create jobs. Explore what the technologies of today can allow you to do today. Bertrand discovered that while flying 27,000 miles around the world without a single drop of fuel. The four electric motors of his solar-powered plane had a record-beating efficiency of 97%, far ahead of the miserable 27% of standard thermal engines. This means that they only lost 3% of the energy they used versus 73% for combustion propulsion.

It’s evident that opportunity and profit are to be found in the former. Search for efficiencies in your business that can generate more profit. Even waste can be a resource.

3. Highlight the Profit in Your Social Cause

Bertrand set himself a goal of finding 1,000 profitable solutions to fight climate change. He was told it was impossible but proved his detractors wrong. He was also told he wouldn’t need to go past 300, as that’s supposedly how many problems there are in the world. 

Action: There is no miracle solution to climate change —  rather, there are hundreds, found in sectors such as water, energy, agriculture, construction, mobility, and in startups and established companies alike. Talking only about protecting the environment will fall on deaf ears. To move your next idea forward, talk about solutions that will increase profit instead. Seek out success stories to make your point and convince customers, shareholders,
and partners. 

4. Seek Solutions Everywhere

Disruption in your business is very important. Remember that it wasn’t the people making candles that invented the lightbulb. The first successful electric car did not come from the car industry. Elon Musk was not a car manufacturer. He looked at a computer screen and asked, “How can I build a car around this?” It’s dangerous for your success to do more of the same; the straight line in life is very unproductive.

Action: Don’t wait for your current business model to crash from inaction. Instead, ask yourself: “Why am I not ready for a new life?” Learn to think the exact opposite of what you have heard and learned. This does not mean you should do the opposite, but rather, break from the straight-line thinking that we have been taught. See the future in 3D — seek opportunities above, below, and alongside. When you are focused on what you know, you miss everything else. 

Don’t become a stranded asset by holding on to outdated services, systems, and products. It’s bad leadership to continue with unsustainable business practices as it will hurt your bottom line as well as you, your shareholders, and employees. For example, imagine oil companies using their drilling expertise to drill for geothermal energy in cities instead of oil. How can you repurpose something you already do into a critical (more profitable) need for
the future?

5. Are You at Risk of Becoming Redundant?

Ask yourself if your product or service is at risk of becoming redundant.

Action: Open yourself to new ways of thinking and doing. Collaborate with other companies that may not seem like a logical fit but can open your mind to new possibilities and how to repurpose your product or service.

6. Stay Curious

A leader should develop a particular mindset around innovation.

Action: A real leader has curiosity and looks for things they don’t know. Don’t be happy with what you already know. Always try to find out for yourself if something is possible. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations, travel to the source of your curiosity, and see something different with your own eyes. Develop a sense of adventure around reinventing yourself and your business. Good leaders should be explorers, seeing beyond the obvious. 

The possible is not found in reality but in the mindset of seeing things differently. A real leader never believes they are more clever than another. A leader should doubt – not hesitate — by asking questions of those around them. Be open to all possible directions.

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