How often have you had to admit that if you had had more time to think something through you might have made a different decision, one that would have been better for the organisation and left you feeling confident that you had made the best decision given all the circumstances?

As a leader you are expected to make decisions all the time because that’s what you are paid to do. So, how come the time you need to think, really think about these decisions is often squeezed into a quick coffee/ cigarette break because of all the other stuff that needs your attention? How much more effective would you be if you could legitimately take time to think, really think? The evidence, from both Daniel Kahneman and Nancy Kline, is that you would not only become more efficient with your time, you would also make better decisions.

I recently attended a Thinking Partnership© course which challenged me personally and professionally about how well I listen to colleagues, how I appreciate them and how I value them and their thinking as equals. I also learnt how to appreciate the gift of someone paying me ‘generative attention’ confirming what I knew intuitively; that when someone pays attention and really listens, without interruption and with genuine interest and encouragement I feel appreciated and valued. What surprised me was that when I engaged in this Thinking Partnership process I was able to find solutions to problems and issues that had been on my mind for some time quickly and effortlessly.

There are times when, because of everything that’s going on you just can’t think. What’s happening is that you are under  stress and when under stress the body goes into ‘flight or fight mode’,  shutting down all but our survival mechanisms. It stimulates the production of cortisol, which deliberately slows down thinking and focuses on what the body needs for escape or avoidance, but nothing else. On the other hand when we feel appreciated and valued we relax, the pre-frontal cortex is engaged and dopamine is produced creating a positive emotional response sometimes described as the ‘feel good factor’ or even ‘being in the zone’, when time seems to stand still and everything appears effortless.

Daniel Kahneman in his book ‘Thinking: Fast and Slow‘ explains how he discovered that we have two systems for thinking; system 1 and 2. What he observed was that when he asked people to calculate 2+2 they responded quickly, automatically and without appearing to think (system 1 at work). However, when people were asked to calculate 27 x 14 he noticed that they had to deliberately and consciously work out the answer (system 2). If he then asked them to solve 27×14 whilst walking, he found that the majority of people either slowed down or had to stop to complete the calculation. The point is that in order for the brain to be able to cope with the massive amount of information it’s receiving all the time, it has had to develop this system 1 response, which draws on previous situations and experiences so it doesn’t have to constantly, consciously process everything going on. However, this makes the fast, system 1 mode fallible to coming to the wrong conclusion. It’s ironic that a professor of psychology (which Kahneman is) should receive the Nobel prize for economics, based on his observations and the application of this theory on how financiers made decisions. What he discovered was evidenced in the catastrophic mistakes made during the financial crisis; when under pressure and reacting to events rather than taking a step back and considering all the evidence (not just that which agreed with their previous, system 1 experience) they made bad choices. Even when the evidence showed that it was a bad idea, for example give people home loans in excess of 100% value of their property; it turned out that system 1 thinking predominated.

This is why it’s important to understand the conditions for enabling good thinking and that too often, because of the daily pressures of work we don’t, indeed can’t make good decisions unless we allow time and make a conscious effort to think through our decisions and not just rely on what we think we know (system 1).

So, how do you find the time to think well? Indeed, how do you justify taking time out to think? Well, I would like to invite you to ask yourself these questions; if you knew that all of your leadership team were as good as you at solving problems in a way that made the organisation flourish, how would you manage your meetings? If you knew that the colleague who always says nothing in a meeting is just waiting for the space and permission to speak, without interruption and with other colleagues respectfully listening – what might she say that would transform the meeting? Are you prepared to take the risk of saying nothing, or very little to ensure others feel able and valued to speak their thoughts? The evidence suggests that organisations who adopt a Thinking Partnership approach to decision making become more efficient, because they make better decisions and spend less time managing the consequences of poor decisions. Even by making a conscious effort to allow yourself and others time to think, respectfully listening and valuing everyone’s thoughts you will begin to relax, trust that others are as capable as you (and therefore can relieve the pressure on you) and create a positive culture for achieving excellence. So, what are you waiting for?