Recently I posted “Leader, Strategically Keep Thy Mouth Shut“. The title was startling perhaps, but the principle is important. I wrote the post to encourage leaders to think strategically, especially when making quick decisions. Many times a leader says something or does something in a quick response, which can negatively impact other people or the organization. Sometimes it is best to say nothing until the best answer can be decided. This type answer often requires the combined energy and thinking of more than one leader. One blog reader asked me to expand on the phrase “thinking strategically in the moment”, specifically sharing how I do that in practice.
Again, it should be understood that this post addressed decisions which require some thought. Most leaders make hundreds of decisions a day and many of those require very little thought. If a leader is asked a question or has to make a decision where an answer has already been clearly defined, then the leader can move quickly. When the issue, however, has an undetermined solution, especially if the decision could alter the direction of the organization, impact other people or require a change in the organization’s finances, then the leader needs to learn to think strategically in the moment. That may result in saying nothing immediately to allow time for further consideration.
With that in mind, how does a leader think strategically in the moment? Here are 5 thoughts of how I do this:
Take notes - I always take notes while listening. This allows the leader to see the situation in writing and think through a response. If I’m not certain I understand the situation, seeing my notes allows me to ask for further clarification. If taking notes is not an option and the answer is not definite…I postpone the answer. This helps the leader avoid making major decisions on the run.
Listen intently - This is a problem for some leaders, especially busy, highly creative leaders. It’s one I struggle with personally. Many leaders (this one included) have problems with details. Accustomed to making quick and many decisions, leaders often try to solve an issue on the spot rather than have to deal with it later. This is a great approach for the issues that have a defined solution already, but if it’s committing to something that hasn’t been decided yet, it could be dangerous. I try to listen for enough details to make a wise decision, but if I know I can’t make a quick decision based on the information I have time to hear, then I delay making one.
Think “NEXT” - This is really formed by habit, but it involves training yourself to always ask the question,”How will this decision impact other people and the organization?” If I am uncertain, I know it is be best to delay deciding on the issue until I can give it adequate time for consideration. Many leaders make decisions that others have to live with because they didn’t take time to think through the best answer. Thinking “NEXT” means I am thinking of the repercussions that will come “next” after the decision is made.
Discipline Mouth -”Keeping a tight reign” on your tongue is actually a Biblical concept. Part of spiritual and personal growth is to mature in the area of what a leader says. The more responsibility a leader receives the more critical it becomes that he or she practice discipline with their words. This is a continuous work in progress for me, but over the years I have learned to hold my tongue until I have thought through a response.
Value Waiting – Waiting is never a bad idea if it leads to a better decision. I realize time is of the essence in most organizational decisions these days, but equally important is protecting the morale of the team or the organization’s future. Plus, I have learned by experience that there is a value in caged momentum. (Read a post about that HERE.) The leader should not be afraid to make someone wait for the best answer.
Does that help explain “thinking strategically in the moment”? Could this be a discipline you need to practice? I’d love to hear your thoughts…questions…criticisms…comments.