I read my first leadership seventeen years ago and I still remember it vividly: sitting outside, back against a fence, literally turning the pages as fast as I could with my heart pounding. Sadly, I’m not exaggerating. 🙂 But even though the book inspired me, nothing from that book actually drives my day to day leadership. All sizzle and no steak.
However, other leadership books I’ve read since permanently changed the way I lead and live. The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership by Steven Sample has several power and practical ideas.
The one I probably use most: Thinking Gray
Our human instinct is to decide what we think about something right away. I agree. I don’t like it. She’s right and he’s wrong. But Sample challenged me to unnaturally reserve my judgement—to not form an opinion until I have to decide. Yes, not deciding at all is poor leadership. But deciding too soon is also poor leadership.
How many times have you heard someone share their story of injustice and decided the other guy was a jerk—only to later learn the other side of the story and change your mind? I’ve had that happen with my kids so many times I lost count. And I’ve had it at work and at church and with my friends.
How do you respond when you watch the news? Hear your family members complain about someone else? Learn about a decision someone else at your company made? My normal response—thanks entirely to practicing this for years now—is to be glad to learn the information, decide not to decide yet.
Thanks to this, when I do need to make a decision, I hold the data I have lightly, knowing it’s likely not the whole story. I do make decisions—lots of them, but you might be surprised (like I was) how much of life never actually requires me to make a decision about it. (The news, my crazy relative, what another department in the company is doing—most of these things may never need me to form an opinion about whether they’re right or wrong). Deciding is mental work (many scientific studies show this). The energy loss and stress I avoid by not choosing sides on those items is pretty significant. It gives me more time and energy to make the decisions that do matter.
Thinking gray requires restraint and humility, but it’s saved me from many, many poor decisions.
What area of your life could thinking gray help you be wiser?