Stop Doing, Start Thinking

Last week, I stated that when working with senior leaders, one of my primary objectives is to help them transition from being doers to thinking leaders. For this to happen, they need to do three things:

  1. Truly start thinking
  2. Become teachers, facilitators, and coaches
  3. Build communication and trust

In this post, we will focus on the first point: thinking.

When I talk about thinking and senior-level leaders, I am referring to the big, heavy lifting type of thinking – the kind that will take the company to the next level. Far too often, senior leaders revert to old ways of thinking and solving problems in the business. They are not investing their energy thinking on the business.

Here are a few examples of thinking “in” the business:

  • Helping to write new code in a software company
  • Negotiating contract terms with a new client
  • Determining employee bonus compensation

Below are a few ways to think “on” the business:

  • What could and should the company look like in five years?
  • What are the current industry trends and how can the company capitalize on them?
  • Who are the ideal senior team leaders and how can they be coached/empowered to become better?

Thinking “in” and “on” the business are both important. However, the reality is the higher up in the organization you are, the more crucial it is to think bigger, more strategically, and much further into the future.

This really big, high-level thinking is where future opportunities live. If you are not taking the time to allow yourself to think and explore these major issues, blind spots may occur…and even one major blind spot can become the extinction of an organization. Think Blockbuster getting clobbered by Netflix.

Although it doesn’t have to be as dramatic as the Netflix scenario, it can be just as important. I believe one of the main obligations of senior leaders is to help provide clarity around where the organization is going and what it could look like in the future. It will never cease to amaze me how often I see organizations (and individuals, for that matter) that have grown as a result of reacting to what came to them versus being proactive and building up to where they want to be. In other words, an opportunity came, so they took it and something else came…then they did a little pivot, and so on. However, when organizations and individuals are intentional about where they want to go or what they want to achieve 10 years in the future, for example, they see so much more success. This type of thinking will not happen if people at the top do not take the time to step back, explore, and think about what the future could be.

The senior leader of the organization is uniquely qualified to take a high-level view, explore opportunities, identify threats, and engage with others to help determine what the future should look like. Because this sort of thinking can literally be worth millions of dollars in future success to the company, I believe they must make it a priority.

There are a variety of terms people use for this thinking time, such as “clarity breaks,” “quiet time,” or “meditation”. I think our subconscious is always working on problems and wants to provide solutions. When we are buried with noise and business, though, we do not give ourselves the space to let our subconscious rise to the surface and offer suggestions. Scheduling and committing to clarity time provides the space to allow these possible solutions to come to light.

To assist with this, I encourage you to spend a minimum of one hour a week disconnected from all devices. Give yourself permission to embrace that time. Some people like to sit quietly with paper and a pen to see what comes out. Others practice this by not turning on the car radio and keeping their phone off when they drive. I have found that I prefer to have thinking time during bike rides. I commute to work most days and find huge value in the 40 minutes of clarity time to and from the office.

No matter how you choose to embrace your clarity time, I believe it is the highest and best use of your time as a senior leader.

Interestingly, these leadership skills can also be applied to the important job of parenting. Below are three points a client-friend of mine, Paul, sent to me in a note that lays out the similarities.

THINKING: The default path is so ingrained in today’s society. Go to school, focus on grades, get a job, and raise/support a family. At the same time, many of these systems are being challenged, and we now have many alternatives to this default path. We also have (as always) many outside challenges to consider. It takes a lot of time and energy to perform this outside-the-box thinking, but it has never been more critical.

BECOMING TEACHERS, FACILITATORS, AND COACHES: Also known as…parenting. The biggest gift we can give our children is independence. We need to stop “doing” for them and let them learn. We can do this by “leading” by example. Or we can spend the extra time and break down the tasks for them, so they can better understand and learn and grow on their own. This process takes extra time and energy, but always pays off in the long run.

BUILDING COMMUNICATION AND TRUST: The core of any relationship, and the home is no different. Transparency and honesty need to start from the cradle. It is easy to let this one slip away with all the time pressures and digital forces. We must go out of our way to create the communication channels necessary for the trust to stay at the core.

Next week, we will dive into the second leadership lesson, which is learning to become a teacher, facilitator, and coach.

Are you thinking “on” your business enough? Are you interested in learning how to evolve from a doer to a thinker? Contact us today to find out more!

Keep Smiling,

Kris

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