The mind is an excellent servant, but a terrible master


It’s not something we’re taught to do. Ironically – or perhaps, sadly – as so much of what we do and experience and choose and feel is shaped by how we think.

A lot of endeavour in the workplace is made easy or difficult by the thinking that precedes it. We talk a lot about topics like teaming, strategising, innovating, problem-solving, and changing, but these are all actions that take place on the periphery.

What lies ahead of these outer actions are our inner- thoughts.

‘Thinking’ is a learnable skill. Many people in the coaching fraternity can actually visualise thinking (ditto for conversations – also a visible practice for some) like something akin to a movie playing out in their minds.

With the immediate operational pressures associated with being a CEO, the notion of dedicating time to learning how to think well might seem fanciful. I’ve certainly bumped up against this resistance in my work with CEOs. That is, until, the consequences of faulty thinking become apparent. Then it all changes.

These are some of the areas where I’ve observed poor thinking to be in play:

  • Forming a business strategy that covers steps 1 and 2, but neglects to consider steps 3 -> 10, which is how far the thinking of a good Strategy needs to go in order for it to be fully ‘proven’. [Example: Deciding to go into a sector without first checking to see which other strong offerings might already be in existence]

  • Attempting to enable people by using tactics that simply don’t synch up with the make-up of the person in question [Example: Applying pressure to someone who goes into freeze mode under duress, when confidence-building, trust-building and support is really what they need]

  • Not understanding one’s own patterns, triggers, or biases, thus letting them run rampant when making important and high consequential choices. [Example: Not recognising a tendency to be skeptical about new ideas that block off legitimate, high-value innovations)

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I am becoming more aware that a provocation such as this will fall on deaf ears with some CEOs. And that is ok – there must be room for CEOs of all shapes and sizes and differing levels of ambition and appetite.

That said, I advocate that you are clear-eyed about this crucial topic of executive thinking.

I would say that 90% of both the mistakes and victories I witness at the CEO level can be tied directly back to thinking-quality, so do yourself the service of at least forming a well-considered view of how you think, what your tendencies are, where your thinking has tripped you up in the past, and where your business requires better quality thinking.

Reach out to connect whenever you’d like to. I’m always happy to engage in a conversation about thinking as a learnable skill.

All the best from a beautiful Cape Cod, where I am celebrating July 4th with my kids and my extended family, all of whom live in Boston.


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My weekly missive, CEO Sundays, is published at 5pm every Sunday evening. The writings cover CEO topics exclusively: how-to’s; thought starters; leadership insights; reflection opportunities; research.

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