“I’m thinking! Post me some slack!” Gee whiz, when did it become an unpardonable business sin to sit and actually think? I think through processes and who to involve. I’ll tell people to give me a day or so to think through an issue. Then on the next day, the heavens open, my thoughts clear, and I’m ready to attack the problem. I can’t do that as well when I just hear about an issue. I have to think things through, often on the train ride home where no one is around to disturb me.
Thinking is only part of the equation
So, how much of leadership is just thinking? Doing is an expectation for so many people at work. Thinking and, god forbid, feeling are just not recognized as work items. In a working environment (particularly one that promotes itself as a family venture) we must not only allow for, but insist upon, time for thinking and feeling at work.
Ok, what do I mean by thinking and feeling?
When I’m in the shower (or on a run, or folding clothes, or mowing the lawn) my brain has lots of free space. It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of thought to squirt a bit of shampoo into my hand and work it through my hair. That’s the time my mind wanders and I start to think about abstract notions. By letting my mind wander while doing a mindless task, I come up with good stuff.
I do have to direct my thoughts toward a specific issue but I don’t try to come up with a solution as much as set my mind’s eye on infinity and start looking off into the distance. This is the thinking part of work and yet I rarely have time for it at work. Good ideas and innovative solutions are very valued in the workplace but the process of getting to them is not even considered. If someone is deep in thought at their desk, when their manager walks by the assumption will be that they are daydreaming or loafing. It’s never considered that they are just thinking. There should be time in the day for just that.
Feeling is (should be) natural
Moving from thinking, feeling at work is very out of the ordinary. When you lead people at work you must understand that they are not at work for you. They are at work for their families, for their partners, for their advancement, for all sorts of reasons and it’s not about you. They have very emotional attachments that send them to work. They need the money, they seek recognition, they have someone to support… they are tied emotionally to why they work.
Therefore, if you don’t feel for them, you can’t lead them. Everyone we work with has (or surely will) experienced a personal loss at some point in time. Someone they care for, someone they love, will pass on and they will hurt. We all understand that we need to feel for workers during these trying times. What we fail to grasp, however, is that we always need to feel for those we lead, not only during those trying times. We won’t always know what is important to them and they won’t always tell us. In fact, when we don’t know our direct reports, they will never confide in us. That’s why we must not only allow for feeling for our employees but set aside time to express those feelings.
Too busy to think?
How many of us have said the phrase “I’ve been so busy today I haven’t even had time to think?” If you haven’t had time to think, you haven’t had time to lead. Leading without thinking is leading into disaster. We must think first. Furthermore, if we think and then act without feeling, we have wasted all that good thought. We must invest time to show those we lead how much we feel for them. They won’t follow because of what we think, they will follow because we have shown how much we feel.
Abraham Lincoln: “If I had five minutes to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first three sharpening the axe.”
This piece was co-written by Mitch Mocilnikar