A Leader’s perspective: Seeing the world through mental models

Lately I have found myself seeing many problems through my leadership lens. Has this ever happened to you? It is kind of like when you buy a new car and suddenly all you notice when you drive is the model you bought.

This is a real danger for a leader. When we allow this process to occur naturally without challenge we will enter into a space where we will force a solution onto a problem that simply does not fit. Alternatively we may use a problem solving method that just will not work for the issue in question. The danger is we will not necessarily even know that what we are doing is wrong.

How can we combat this tendency?

There are several methods to fight it.

  • Mental Model busting
  • Learn always and everywhere
  • Feedback
  • Think through a different construct.

Mental Models

We all have them, we just are not aware of most of them. Our social conditioning provides us with a stable environment in which only a portion of the stimuli around us actually enter our brain. These filters are both a sanity saver and risky filter at the same time. Coupled with our minds filtering ability is its judgment processes or mental models. We have a tendency to reject data that does not support an assumption we have made to a point where we are not aware of the input. (we only see Toyota Prius’s and not any other car) We may go even further where we consider a small amount of the sensory input make up our mind then cop an attitude about the situation complete with negative emotions and closed off perspective.

We need to discover what our internal assumptions are. What are these things that hold us back, make us emotionally stunted for periods of time. Once we identify them we can challenge them and eventually change them. Look for negative emotions that inhibit your ability to embrace certain situations and ask why I am feeling acting this way. I have successfully identified and eliminated several negative mental models this way.


The beauty of learning is that you must first unlearn what you think you know. This process of deconstruction continually amazes me. So often I become aware of the limitations of my own thought processes through the threat of learning. You see my brain does not want to learn. It wants to stay static. I see my brain as any other muscle in my body (only with far greater importance) so I exercise it regularly. I believe that learning exercises the brain and definitely breaks down the negative mental models that exist there.


We talk about this so often most of you could write it yourself. Feedback is the best external gut check on how realistic your actions and by extension thoughts are.


I love this word, sorry. When I get that old sensation that once again I am analyzing a challenging situation from a leadership lens, I often ask myself how else could you look a this challenge. Could this be a systems challenge, a management challenge, a learning challenge, or a communication breakdown. Any other construct that could explain the challenge will do as long as it gets you looking at it from a different point of view.

So that is it four ways to challenge your mental models and hopefully identify new ways of looking at an old problem.

There is an old saying that is very much on point here.

Hammer TimeIf the only tool in your tool belt is a hammer,

then every problem tends to look like a nail.

Lead well…with a chisel ;-)

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Posted in Self Leadership Development
One comment on “A Leader’s perspective: Seeing the world through mental models
  1. Shaun Kieran says:

    I agree with most of your post. I’m amazed at how much resistance there is to learning -as if to do so will be a shattering experience, rather than an enriching one.

    Being aware of one’s own thoughts and feelings should be a wonderful asset, but too often is seen as temporizing, surrendering to doubt, interrupting the flow, self indulgence, and the charge of cowardice is always lurking.

    In the absence of a cultural audience that recognizes, appreciates, and encourages the learning that results from self-awareness and emotional honesty, there will be less of it.

    And those that try, but perhaps don’t quite nail it perfectly, can often end up feeling burned – rejected and isolated.

    Having said that, learning is really the only way forward.

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