Creating the time to think is an essential foundation to effective leadership. It is also often difficult to achieve.
For many who have successfully embarked on their leadership journey, they have got this far due to functional or technical expertise and a track record - from a “doing” role. They’ve probably been very busy and perhaps already highly organised in ‘doing’ things.
Effective leadership usually involves rather less of the doing and this leaves many people unsure of what they should be doing instead. Slipping back into doing mode or being reluctant to let it go in the first place, can exacerbate the problem.
When encouraged to schedule thinking time, many people struggle to use the time effectively, or find that they have relinquished it completely in the face of 'higher priority' matters. We find this is usually because they are not sure what to actually do with the time. What does ‘time to think’ or ‘strategic thinking’ actually entail?
It is important both to make time to think and to be clear about why you are doing it.
- Create the right space for you: that may be a quiet meeting room, a busy coffee shop, an outdoor space or being at home. Wherever it is, find a space that helps you get into the right head-space. For example, where do you find it most easy to detach yourself from everyday concerns and think, be creative, reflective, analytical, and so on? Resist the tendency to feel as though you are simply wasting time or slacking - this is often very hard in practice when your team is busy and there is a lot to do.
- Adopt an approach that works best with your personal style: Do you think best when you can be free, creative, expansive? Do you need lots of space, paper, pens, screens to think graphically? Do you think best when you have a structure and clear framework in which to order your thoughts on the topics you need to focus on? Whichever suits you best, ensure that you begin with what works for you. (As you get more practiced in using this time you may well find that mixing it up with an alternative or opposite style is very valuable).
- Make a regular commitment for this activity. Diarise it. It won’t happen if it doesn’t get time in your calendar. Ensure that this time is safeguarded and accorded the priority that reflects its importance.
- Allow yourself to get into a state of flow if you can - this is likely to be where your best ideas come from. Identify some outcomes to help with focus.
In the next article in the New Leaders series we’ll discuss frameworks and topics, but for now keep in mind that this time will have value and meaning if you prioritise it and are clear about the purpose of it.
What are you hoping to achieve?