Summer is the perfect time to reflect, relax, recharge, and destress. It’s also a great time to THINK. I was reminded of the value of taking time to think while reading the book The Navigator’s Compass: 101 Steps Toward Leadership Excellence, written by my colleague and friend, David O’Brien. It’s the perfect companion to a cup of coffee while relaxing in an Adirondack chair in the morning before one gets swept away with the day’s activities. Or as this stock photo suggests, while you are immersed in nature, broadening your perspective, and benefiting from fresh air and clear thought. If only…
A particular chapter in David’s book reminded me of the importance of critical thinking. It also made me aware of how many of us, myself included, prioritize doing often at the expense of thinking. In my work as an executive presentation coach, I’ve identified one of the root causes of bad PowerPoint presentation: the compulsion to build/act/do before one does the planning and thinking. Before putting together the presentation slide deck, I ask my clients to think for 30 minutes about these questions: What do you need to communicate? Why are you giving this presentation? What is your key message? What outcomes are you seeking as a result of your presentation? What does your audience need from you and how can you best serve them? In order to encourage my clients to “think before they build,” I created a simple but powerful presentation tool called Clean Sheet Thinking. You can download the tool from my Open Vault on my web site, or read my book, Stop Global Boring. It will give you something to think about.
David O’Brien has kindly given me permission to showcase an excerpt from this thought-provoking book, The Navigator’s Compass. Please read, enjoy, and buy his book so you can soak in his other high-value leadership insights.
THINK: Exploring the Value of Think Time
Excerpt from the book The Navigator’s Compass: 101 Steps Toward Leadership Excellence, 3rd Edition 2017, written by David O’Brien, published by Purpose Driven Publishing
“When was the last time you really took time to think? If you’re like most busy leaders I know, you probably said just a few minutes ago or possibly only a few hours ago. You might even be quick to respond that you’re thinking right now as you read these words. If I had been asked this question only a year or two ago, I would have likely responded the same way. I might have even been annoyed by such an inquiry. After all, as leaders, we get paid to think. While there is a great deal of truth to this, the deeper trust is that few of us rarely take the time to think about an issue for more than a few seconds or minutes. There are of course exceptions, but more times than not, today’s multitasking leader races through the thinking process in the name of efficiency.
To be sure, success in any worthwhile endeavor demands good thinking. To more forward as leaders, we must be willing and able to analyze information accurately, anticipate the consequences of options, and to draw reasonable conclusions. We also need to be able to explain our points of view by providing good reasons and, at all times, solid evidence. Not surprising, all of this takes more than a few seconds or minutes to ensure a successful outcome. By my estimation, it takes even more than what is commonly referred to as critical thinking.
“More times than not, today’s multitasking leader races through the thinking process in the name of efficiency.”
Critical thinking is the capacity to make timely, effective, and well-reasoned decisions, which are absolutely essential for leadership success. Much has been written about critical thinking, but a good frame of reference comes from author David T. Moore, who defines critical thinking as “a deliberate metacognitive (thinking about thinking) and cognitive (thinking) act whereby a person reflects on the quality of the reasoning process simultaneously while reasoning to a conclusion.” He goes on to say that the thinker has two equally important goals: coming to a solution and improving the way she or he reasons. Hence, critical thinking means much more than logic.
Several years ago, I was involved in the delivery of an eight-module leadership series for a Hartford, Connecticut-based client. To demonstrate the organization’s commitment to the initiative, a member of the executive team did the kickoff of each workshop. For the final workshop in the two-year series, the chairman of the company did the kick off segment. He was by all accounts a highly respected global leader with an impressive record of success over his forty-year career. Even more importantly, he was widely known as an authentic leader who allowed his core values to guide him at every juncture.
“Critical thinking is the capacity to make timely, effective, and well-reasoned decisions, which are absolutely essential for leadership success.”
Before the final workshop began, the two of us had nearly thirty minutes to review our presentations in an effort to create linkages between the two presentations. Knowing that I was in the presence of a true leader, I decided to seek his guidance about leadership. I was certain that even a single nugget of leadership wisdom from him would be quite meaningful. In hindsight, it was one of the most meaningful nuggets of leadership wisdom I’ve heard in a very long time. When asked “what is one piece of advice you would give to a leader as he or she begins their leadership journey,” he replied, “Take the time to think.” I must admit that, at first, I was a bit perplexed. I guess that I had expected something related to core values, emotional intelligence, or even faith, but certainly not the idea of “thinking.”
After what seemed to be a very long pause, he went on to say that few of us rarely take the time to think. The absence of deep and deliberate thinking by his estimation had become a hurdle for both leaders and organizations.
While this leadership insight made some sense the first time I heard it, the truth is that it has become a very important part of my development both as a leader and a consultant. Taking the time to think, to really think about important issues, has made the difference between seeing a limited range of options and seeing multiple options. Not surprisingly, it has also produced greater clarity and better outcomes.
Each of us is provided with numerous opportunities every day to harness our intellectual capacity by thinking in a deliberate way. Our intellect requires a voice, and thinking gives it that voice. By making deliberate think time a part of your daily routine, you not only create greater clarity, purpose and meaning for yourself, but also for your team.
Five Steps That You Can Take Today
“To be sure, success in any worthwhile endeavor demands good thinking.”
- Evaluate the amount of time you spend thinking about key issues and consider the impact of your decisions.
- Ask yourself, “Who would benefit if I had a broader range of options to consider?”
- Use commute time as an opportunity to think deeply about one or two key issues that you currently face.
- Schedule at least ten minutes of think time on your calendar every day and do your best to honor this commitment by purposefully eliminating distractions.
- Seek input from your peers and/or about the importance of think time and solicit feedback about what works well for them.”
— end of book excerpt —
About David O’Brien
David is President of Connecticut based WorkChoice Solutions, a trusted provider of leadership and team effectiveness training, coaching and consulting services founded in 2000. He works with a wide range of corporate, non-profit and public sector clients to help bring about sustainable improvements in organizational effectiveness. His first book, The Navigator’s Handbook, 101 Leadership Lessons for Work & Life is available on-line and in bookstores nationwide. His second book, The Navigator’s Compass, 101 Steps Toward Leadership Excellence was released in 2016 and is also available wherever books are sold. To learn more about the scope of David’s work in helping leaders and teams to be more effective or to arrange for David to speak at your next conference or other special event, please visit WorkChoice Solutions on line at: www.workchoicesolutions.com or call him directly at 860.242.1070.
Learn more from David O’Brien
- Tap into David’s leadership insights through his leadership consulting, coaching, keynote speaking services, and books. Visit his web site WorkChoice Solutions.
- Take advantage of David’s free resources, including the leadership assessments that you can download from his web site.
- Connect with David on LinkedIn and read his thought-leadership articles – https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidobrienleadership/