Leadership Think Time . . .

Lincoln axe

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.  ~Abraham Lincoln

I am always amazed, and a little saddened, as I observe how hectic the average day is for most senior executives. Many get up early to attend to overnight emails, try to get in a bit of exercise, have a fleeting breakfast with the kids, then get to the office, where the treadmill begins.  Look at just about any senior executive diary (day planner) and you will most likely find back-to-back meetings scheduled from the minute they walk in till the janitor turns out the lights.

I understand that most executive work is done in meetings.  But here’s my question:

When do senior executives have time to think?

To mull things over?  To put the pieces together?  To internalize the lessons of the day? To make plans for the future?

The most precious commodity in business is not money, it’s quiet time to think!

Remember in the early school years when there was “quiet time” twice a day in the class room?  Some kids would take a nap, others would day dream, some would draw or colour, some read a book.  Maybe we need “Quiet Time” in the executive day as well!

Without time to think things through, to follow up hunches, to explore nagging suspicions, to critically evaluate data, it is easy to make poor decisions.  And senior executives are supposed to make decisions, to point the way, to settle arguments, to give direction.  In the past when the business world wasn’t changing as rapidly as it is now, decision making could be stretched out in order to delve a little deeper, to have some important thinking time.  Today’s fast pace of business and growing global competition makes speed the currency of success.  But poor decisions made quickly are still poor decisions.

This is a true story.  One CEO client was so frazzled with back to back meetings that whenexecutive_washroom one of his direct reports wanted to speak to him, he asked him to come into the restroom for a talk since that was the only free time he had!  Needless to say the direct report left the company.

A few CEO’s and senior executives I have known over the years have carved out thinking time during their day.  Some demand that their executive assistant (or themselves if they manage their own calendar) schedule 15 minutes of “think time” in between meetings. Others set out “no meetings” time during their day in order to process information and think things through. At various times I invite senior executives to my house in France, which is miles out in the quiet countryside, for a weekend just to spend some quality time thinking about their business, their team, their strategy, and other important aspects of their business that deserve some real “think time”.

Do you have enough (any) think time during the day?  If not, I suggest that you may actually be destroying business value without even knowing it.  Activity is a poor substitute for effectiveness.

“Whatever else the real work of leadership involves – and it is constantly changing – it always involves one crucial component. That component is thinking.” ~Abraham Zaleznik

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
This entry was posted in consulting, corporate culture, Human Psychology, John R Childress, leadership, Organization Behavior, the business of business and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Leadership Think Time . . .

  1. Raunak says:

    great point, John. I’ve seen a lot of meetings ruined because the meeting minutes are used by the participants to think rather than frame an execution plan for what they should have thought prior to the meeting.


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