Thomas C. Corley spent 5 years researching successful people and their habits. His conclusion: "Thinking is the key to their success."
In our constant state of being busy, we often find it difficult to find the time to just sit back and think. And more significantly, we forget how important it is to take the time to practice critical thinking. To problem-solve. To define our values and goals and map out the processes that will help us achieve them.
Realise why it's so important.
Every decision we make about our organisation has an impact. Sometimes the impact is really good and sometimes it can be really bad. Our decisions affect business outcomes, individual lives and our community, so we need to make sure we are making smart decisions.
Studies have shown that a judge's decision on whether or not to grant a person parole was often determined based on whether or not they had breakfast that day. Think about that. How we are feeling when we make a decision, matters. Whether we slept well last night, ate healthily, exercised... it has an impact on your decision making. Smart decision-makers make the time to think. To understand and work out the issues. They practice self-care.
Additionally, critical thinking enables leaders to understand the impact of their decisions on their business as a whole. As Diane Halpern, an award-winning professor of psychology states: "Critical thinking is the use of those cognitive skills or strategies that increase the probability of a desirable outcome. It is used to describe thinking that is purposeful, reasoned, and goal-directed - the kind of thinking involved in solving problems, formulating inferences, calculating likelihoods, and making decisions ... it's the kind of thinking that makes desirable outcomes more likely."
If we want to be leaders that innovate, think strategically and drive positive change in our organisation, then we need to realise why it's so important to take care of ourselves and prioritse time to think.
Schedule the time.
With all of the noise and interruptions in our workdays, it's hard to find the time to think. Maybe even harder to find a quiet place where you can relax, turn off the cell phone and just think. So let's be honest with ourselves, unless you block out the time in your day and make it a priority, it's not going to happen. Don't feel guilty about it. It's important work and it makes you a better leader.
Define your personal core values.
Before you can get down to thinking about long-term business strategy and process improvements, we have to first look at the big picture and define our values. Your values are what define you as a person and as a leader. They trickle down into everything that we do, so you have to identify them, embrace them and own them. When your core values are clear to you, the big decisions become easy.
Values are not ethics and morals, they're what mean the most to us, what we value, and what gives us purpose. As a manager or a CEO, it is important to define your values and align them with everything you do every day. Research shows that "a CEO’s values set the stage for the culture of the organization, which in turn influences its growth, efficiency, and member behavior."
So, take the time to think about your values. Think of those moments when your business goals and personal goals felt aligned. A moment that made you feel most alive. What values are recognisable in that moment?
For inspiration, check out the personal mission statements of these 5 CEOs.
Align your values with your company's core values.
Your company’s culture is a direct result of your company’s core values. You can’t incentivise culture. Culture is created by how you enforce your core values, not how you define them. Actions speak louder than words. Do you hire based on values? Do you terminate for violating values? Ask yourself this: if your top salesperson violated your core value of honesty, would you terminate him or her?
Values-based leadership is as simple as leading by example. Doing the right thing for the right reasons and not compromising on your core values. When you lead by your values, you foster strategic thinking and gain the support and respect of your staff.
Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, said it best: “The only thing that works is management by values. Find people who are competent and really bright, but more importantly, people who care exactly about the same thing you care about.”
Once we realise that our individual values can have a profound impact on others, by influencing their actions, feelings or work habits, we can develop into a leader that inspires others to strive and achieve on a deeper level.
Find the gaps and innovate.
Innovation comes from critical thinking and problem-solving. Take time to really think through a problem. Don't just think of a quick fix, think of the system, process or culture that could be causing the problem. How do we improve the organisation as a whole? How can we innovate around the problem to not only fix it, but improve the experience for your staff and customer?
If you're removed from your core business processes, such as customer service or marketing, schedule a team brainstorming session and run through the process with your staff. Take time to understand it. Ask the tough questions. Discover how it aligns with your company values and shapes corporate culture. For further reading on this type of process, we recommend, The Truth About Customer Experience.
Use your blocks of quiet time to define your personal values and your organisation's values and make sure they align. Plot a long-term strategic plan for your business. Tackle a difficult situation or problem and try to find the best answer. Think about a business process and ask yourself Why do you do it this way? You’d be surprised how often you get the answer “that’s how we have always done it” or “everybody in our industry does it this way.” Innovate. Change. Improve. Grow.
Leadership is not just about doing things, it's about thinking. Make the time for it.