INQUIRER – EIGHTEENTH EDITION
A Time to Think
Two refreshers made a strong impact on me this week.
· Davenport and Harding’s ‘Manager Redefined’ (Jossey-Boss, 2010) - our worst bosses are high on busyness and low on relational competence, and our best bosses are low on busyness and high on relational competence. Managers who do a good job for us are available when needed but not hovering; not too busy, either with increasing their own output or closely overseeing work, to have frequent employee contact; and qualified to make the most of the time spent with each individual. In other words, they have time.
· Rolf Dobelli’s ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly; Better Thinking, Better Decisions’ (Sceptre, 2013) is a terrific read after Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow’ ( Allen Lane 2011 - and see our previous Inquirers, Editions 10 and 11). In 99 punchy chapters Dobelli explores the many thinking errors to which we are prone – halo effect, action bias, groupthink, overconfidence, authority bias etc – and shows how we can spot them, understand them and make better choices in our lives. He has been in the top ten of Germany’s ‘Der Spiegel’ bestseller list for 70 weeks now.
Two refreshers that took me back to Nancy Kline’s seminal ‘Time to Think; Listening to Ignite the Human Mind’ (Ward Lock, Cassell Illustrated, 1999), in which she sets out ten components of an outstanding thinking environment – for ourselves, for working with peers, for our teams, for our organisations.
‘Everything we do depends for its quality on the thinking we do first’
In our stretched, pressed, rushed lives – where we struggle for the oxygen to pause, reflect, create, innovate, think - Kline’s ten components offer us a great frame for constructing better Thinking Environments for ourselves, our colleagues and our loved ones.
‘The quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking’
Kline argues that it is the power of our attention – listening with respect, interest and fascination – that improves the thinking of others, whereas ‘poor attention makes them stumble over their words and seem stupid.’
‘The best conditions for thinking, if you really stop and notice, are not tense. They are gentle. They are quiet. They are unrushed. They are stimulating, but not competitive. They are encouraging. They are paradoxically both rigorous and nimble. At their core is outstanding listening.’
We might usefully reflect on the many limitations that we bring to our own listening – how we finish sentences, interrupt, look away, spend our ‘listening’ time preparing what we are going to say next, and get too easily distracted!
2. Incisive Questions
‘Incisive questions remove limiting assumptions, freeing the mind to think afresh.’
Examples she has collected over the years include – ‘If you were to become the CEO, what problem would you solve first and how would you do it?’; ‘If you were not to hold back in your life, what would you be doing?’; ‘If you could trust that your children would be fine, what would you be doing with the rest of your life?’
In recent weeks, I have heard how an international sports coach challenged his team with ‘What are we assuming that is stopping us raising our performance by a factor of 20% so that we can become truly world class?’; I have seen the CEO of a financial services company ask, ‘What would it take for us to shift our performance from above average to upper decile?’; and enjoyed my colleague and friend George Kinder (Kinder Institute of Life Planning; www. kinderinstitute.com) teaching wealth advisors to use incisive questions to help their clients indentify and clarify what is really important to them.
Kline urges us as leaders to become known for our incisive questions. She encourages us to keep asking questions of our people like – ‘What do you really think?’; ‘If you were in my position, what would you do that I am not doing?’; ‘What are we not facing that is in front of our faces?’ And questions of ourselves like – ‘If I were to be my real self in my leadership, what would I do differently?’; ‘If I weren’t afraid, what would I be risking?’; ‘What would I have to do to set up dependable thinking time for myself every day?’
‘Knowing you will have your turn improves the quality of your listening’
Great conversation is about taking turns and turning the ground. If everyone has a turn, has equal opportunity, all are equal thinking partners and the quality of the Thinking Environment rises. And we are back to the principle of reciprocity – if I let you take your turn, you will let me take mine and the quality of my listening improves.
‘A 5:1 ratio of appreciation to criticism helps people think for themselves.’
Appreciation keeps people thinking; repeated criticism does not. Kline encourages us to give regular appreciative feedback that is genuine, succinct and concrete; to receive it with more grace, a simple ‘Thank you’, rather than deflect it with some phrase like ‘Flattery will get you everywhere’; and to act now by thinking of someone near us and telling them what you appreciate about them.
‘Ease creates. Urgency destroys.’
Kline suggests that ease is the space that a Thinking Environment needs to stay intact, really hard in our ever speedy world. This goes with the quality of our attention to others; the more we can be at ease with ourselves, the more we can help others well. Advisors in a professional services firm are making sure that they are ‘parking up’ 15-30 minutes before meeting their clients so that they can establish their own ease before the meeting. And meditation and mindfulness is getting increasing traction at senior levels in organisations like Apple.
‘Competition stifles encouragement and limits thinking.’
Competition does not necessarily generate excellence – just comparative success, a better job rather than an outstanding job. Kline believes that competition between thinkers fractures our courage and will to ask the incisive questions that no-one wants asked and to listen to the answers; it keeps the attention on our rival and not what we really think.
‘Crying can make us smarter.’
Thinking stops when we are upset, sad, angry or frustrated. If we can express our feelings just enough, thinking restarts. Kline urges us to embrace the feelings that we and our colleagues have; to notice them more effectively; to pause; to follow the arc of the emotion; and to wait until they subside before the quality of thinking can resume.
8. Information, Sometimes
‘The Thinker needs information - at the right moment.’
Of course, an accurate picture of reality is crucial to clear thinking. But Kline encourages us to be attentive and skilful in the way (when and how) we supply that information, in service of keeping the Thinking Environment strong and providing it when we are sure it can make a difference. For instance, she urges us to avoid:
· doing this in mid sentence through interruption (we know how often we all do that!)
· correcting people
· giving information as a vehicle for showing how smart and on the ball we are.
‘A Thinking Environment says back to you, You Matter’.
Simply, not about the appearance of the location, but about ‘You Matter’ in the way it is designed and set up.
‘Diversity raises the intelligence of groups.’
And finally Kline encourages us to watch our embedded prejudice that our ability to think for ourselves is greater than others. This leads us to interrupt, not listen and not pay deep attention. She urges us to replace this with the assumption that all people we come into contact with are actively bright and able to think for themselves on a subject. And I like to think that the men amongst us have come on a little since Kline wrote ‘Time to Think’ in 1999 but her comparison of some of the ingredients of a strong Thinking Environment with aspects of male conditioning provide continuing food for thought!
Thinking Environment Male Conditioning
Listening Take over and tell
Ask incisive questions Know enough
So, to take our cue from ‘Incisive Questions’ – ‘If you were to create and sustain an outstanding Thinking Environment along the lines expounded by Kline for your peers/colleagues, your people and your loved ones, what would you pay most attention to and how would you do it?’
Here is my scorecard.
I will continue to work on my approach to attention (and my propensity to be thinking about what I am going to say next instead of really listening), equality (actively taking my turn), appreciation, ease (surely there is more time for ease in my working day!), encouragement, feeling and place.
But I am going to try significantly to raise my game in the areas of incisive questions ( I need to overcome my fear of asking the really incisive question of myself), information (asking more purposefully at the beginning of an enterprise or relationship Nancy Kline’s excellent question – ‘What do you already know that you are going to find out in a year’s time?) and diversity (I am privileged to have a wonderful circle of friends and colleagues but we all come from a similar social and economic background).
What is your scorecard?
And all thanks for reading this!
Public Leadership Inquiry
13 April 2013