One of the biggest challenges in stepping up to become a chief executive is the psychological challenge of thinking like one.

How you think and what you think has a dramatic impact on how you lead and the results you get.

It’s a subtle aspect that many forget to take care of as they prepare themselves for the top job. But take care of that, and everything else takes care of itself.

Manage your mind

So what are the common pitfalls and how can you best manage your mind at the top?

Dave Lewis of Tesco and Steve Rowe of M&S offer two differing but good retail examples of thinking like a CEO.

While the situations and length of tenures are quite different, they both seem to have exuded confidence and quickly gained the belief of others.

It could have been tough for both of them. Steve Rowe has the challenges of being promoted from within and Dave Lewis the challenge of being an outsider to the sector.

Both have enormous business turnaround challenges to deal with; yet it’s clear that they both assume the role well and seemingly think like a CEO.

So when does it go wrong? The core issue is how people manage their internal voice, the chatter in their mind.

  • Will I be good enough? Will I be able to do it? Will people respect me?
  • I’ll need to work hard to prove myself.
  • Can I turn this company around?
  • What if I can’t? What if I fail?

It’s the same challenge that top sports people have every time they compete. With a noisy mind, you can’t operate in the zone.

Thinking that limits you

And what’s worse, when business leaders are stuck in thinking which limits them, it shows – people see it, sense it, pick up on it.

We all know leaders who just subtly show signs of defensiveness or insecurity on certain topics; or those who over-work trying to prove themselves; or are overly controlling for the same reason.

There are two vital psychological keys to success:

  • Understand how your thinking actually works
  • You have what you need inside you

The chatter

To dissipate the internal chatter, it’s helpful to understand more about the nature of our thinking.

Our thoughts are creating a very vivid moment-to-moment reality that we live within. This reality dominates us. We don’t consider it to be just our thinking; we consider it to be real.

“And as we shift our relationship to that thinking, as the mind quietens, we can access the natural brilliance inside us, we can operate in the zone”

Martin Palethorpe

But of course there are many examples where your thinking isn’t a valid currency on which to base your actions.

Have you ever been worried about something that didn’t happen?

Were you ever convinced about something that didn’t turn out to be true?

Did you notice how your thinking changed over time?

What I’m pointing to is living immersed by our thinking is dangerous, and can prevent us from thinking like a CEO.

The less we buy into that thinking, the more we have psychological freedom.

And as we shift our relationship to that thinking, as the mind quietens, we can access the natural brilliance inside us, we can operate in the zone.

Inside us we have more power than we usually realize; we have wisdom, ideas, inspiration, resilience, strength, intuition. It’s also an authentic place to come from.

So in order to think like a CEO, look inside more.

Certainly listen to what’s going on in the outside world, to what others think, but ultimately look inside for what you think, what your gut says.

Your wisdom has developed from your significant experience, and is why you’re in the role. So the key is to use it, even in the most challenging situation and for the most difficult decisions.

  • Martin Palethorpe is founder of The Pragma Group, a UK-based performance consultancy