If You Want to Be A Great Manager and Leader, Slow Down

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“Speed is addictive; it undermines nearly everything in life that really matters: quality, compassion, depth, creativity, appreciation and real relationship.”Tony Schwartz

When I first learned about negotiations strategies, one rule stuck with me: “If you want an answer now, it’s “No”. But if you allow me some time to think about it, I may change my mind.” In today’s world, everyone seems to want an answer now and it must be “Yes”.

There Are No Slow Lanes Any More

We live in a world that seems to be driving only in the fast lane. It is as if there is almost no time for anything, although we still have 24 hours in a day. But the time that each of us has needs to be allocated to so many tasks and activities, at work and at home, that there is little time left to think, reflect, evaluate, take a deeper perspective, or to simply do nothing. We are forced to make blink decisions on the spot.

From Blink to Brink

Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink led many people to believe that most decisions can be made in a blink of an eye and that they will be as good as when we would have given them conscious attention. After all, we don’t think twice when we asked about something we know well. A doctor can immediately recognize whether a rash is just a skin irritation or whether it is measles. An accountant can classify a transaction as an asset or liability without the need to engage in a prolonged thought process. Being faster than rational thought, this intuitive ‘blink’ thinking is a necessary skill that can help decision-making when time is short, a problem is routine and repetitive, and traditional analytics may not be available.

But sometimes, our instincts are wrong. It happens more often than not, especially when there is no time to think. We not only make bad decisions, we also relax our professional and moral standards.

Thinking Fast and Slow

According to Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize behavioral psychologist from Princeton University, there are two thinking systems: System 1 (thinking fast) and system 2 (thinking slow).

  • System 1 is intuitive, automatic, effortless and associative. This is what is typically called intuition, or what Malcolm Gladwell termed ‘blink’.
  • System 2 is reasoning, controlled, flexible, effortful and rule governed. System 2 is our typical thinking process, for example, when we have to solve a difficult problem or address a new challenge for where there is no off-the-shelf solution.

Intuitive messages delivered by System 1 are sensations that something “feels” right or wrong. They simplify our decision making by quickly guiding our attention toward better options. System 2 works like a brake and a control system on System 1 to keep it in check, verify its validity and correct it when needed. It also helps to update our prior beliefs on the basis of which System 1 operates. Using System 2 allows us to eliminate some of the shortcuts that System 1 applies to get to a decision fast.

Cognitive Biases

Because each person’s intuition is based on a collection of individual experiences, it is subject to opinions and cognitive biases. Intuition is not a reliable source of information. Just because you feel something doesn’t mean it’s true. Our intuition won’t be accurate if our experiences are skewed. Scientists have identified about 200 cognitive biases which may lead our decisions astray. Don’t fool yourself: we are all prone to them. You can check yours using the Cognitive Biases Codex chart.

Thinking Slow: Peer Learning Groups

One of many dangers of ‘blink’ thinking is overconfidence in our own abilities.  It not only leads to bad decisions but often ends up often in disasters of massive proportions (think the Challenger disaster).  Decisions made on autopilot have a short runway.  More complex challenges that don’t have an easy answer require reflection, deliberation and consultation with others.

Peer learning groups can give your leaders and managers the time and opportunity to reflect, deliberate and consult. Instead of going fast and solo, a small group of managers can slow down to give an issue or a management challenge a closer look using System 2 thinking.  If hasty  hiring has become a norm and has led to creating incompatible teams, managers can review their hiring experience (and recent disasters) to uncover some of the hidden motivating factors and biases that may have led to them getting the wrong people onto the bus. Using a structured learning discovery process, they will get the skills to mitigate these tendencies and ensure that the next hiring process will follow a more deliberate and thoughtful process.

These reflective peer learning group meetings serve many purposes. They allow the managers to slow down and give them unconditional ‘time to think’. They deconstruct erroneous intuitions, gut feelings and biases, and offer an opportunity to ground their decisions based on the collective wisdom of their peers (two heads are better than one).

Peer learning groups are flexible, easy to organize, and can engage managers and leaders throughout an organization. They cost next to nothing in comparison to other methods, such as external training or coaching.  And they are pro-social: they help the managers develop mindsets that spread naturally across all functions and layers of the organization.

If you want your managers to be more productive, efficient and creative, allow them time to slow down and think using peer learning groups.

Peter Korynski, Co-Founder and Chief Program Officer

The Peer Learning Institute

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