Models describing how leaders think point to a complex set of cognitive processes. To execute these processes it may be necessary for leaders to simplify the problem at hand with respect to critical contingencies. In the present effort, undergraduates were asked to work on a vision formation task with the resulting vision statements being appraised for quality, originality, elegance, perceived utility, and affective reaction. Manipulations were made to encourage application of more or less complex mental models, a larger, or smaller, number of relevant concepts and cases, and forecasting of positive or negative outcomes. It was found that the strongest visions were produced when people used relatively simple mental models, few schema and cases, and they focused on forecasting negative outcomes. Thus leader performance appears to reflect simplification and an attempt to minimize negative outcomes. The implications of these observations for understanding leader cognition and leader performance are discussed.
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