Mar 16 2018| Leadership
by Kaaren Welsby Associate
I was recently asked to deliver a workshop on ‘Thinking Broadly’ for the Specsavers talent programme. My starting point is always to consider questions around the topic:
· Does the title ‘thinking broadly’ imply that we usually think in a narrow way?
· Does continual use of the ‘broad thinking’ faculty expand our knowledge, push our boundaries and extend the ways in which we think and act, or react?
· What is to be gained by ‘thinking broadly’?
· Do certain people or situations disrupt or disturb our routine patterns of thinking and therefore behaving?
· What encourages us to ‘think broadly’? Who/what/where is your stretch?
Thinking Flexibly to Adapt, Survive and Thrive
Military personnel are taught the necessity of being flexible - of being receptive to adopting new ways of thinking and behaving in order to adapt quickly to different challenges – for example changes in environment, team, culture and ways of operating. They are trained and empowered to be ready and fearless in embracing the idea of thinking broadly and acting accordingly.
I therefore used a military training scenario to encourage Specsavers delegates to talk about possible areas of stress for them and the resultant stretch in thinking and also acting.
The scenario background sets out a scenario in which the delegates are training to be an army media officer prior to being deployed to a new environment; this is the first of several scenarios on which your reactions and ability to assimilate information, plan and remain calm under pressure will be tested by your instructors.
The scenario itself opens with the statement that you are lying semi-awake in a cold, boarded-up house.
A phone rings in another room, then you hear footsteps pounding up the stairs and someone bursts through the door, shouting: ‘Get out, get out!’ You fall out of bed, pull on your clothes, grab your equipment and stumble out into the early morning. A vehicle screeches to a halt in front of the house, the door is flung open and someone yells: ‘Get in, get in!’
You jump up into the passenger seat and the vehicle accelerates. You are bumping over uneven ground, entering a forest. You are on a rough track – and then the brakes are applied suddenly. You are in a clearing with sunlight falling in broad shafts through the trees. Everything is momentarily still as you assimilate your surroundings and establish your bearings. You look around and feel a sense of recognition, even though you have never been here before.
And then you are suddenly aware of the volume of noise around you. People are screaming, crying and shouting and rocking the vehicle. You open the passenger door and stumble out. Cameras are immediately pushed into your face. There is a crowd around you; there is another crowd nearby, shouting at people dressed in white suits prodding an area of raised ground. You realise that you are at the site of a newly discovered mass war grave.
The journalists are shouting at you: ‘What are you going to say?’ The families are crying: ‘What are you going to do?’ The soldiers trying to hold back the crowds look to you for direction. Then the radio crackles and you hear a voice saying: ‘What is the situation? What do you need?’
Thinking Broadly for Effective Leadership
Following immersion in this scenario, delegates were asked to brainstorm areas of stress, strain and stretch in this scenario. We asked the question: ‘In this situation, what would we prioritise and why?’
More generally, what may have an impact on:
We discussed the importance of making time to consider when we have had to face a situation of stress and stretch in current or past roles. What did we do well and what did we feel we might do differently, with the benefit of hindsight?
At its most basic, ‘thinking broadly’ is simply being aware of our surroundings, because what is in our peripheral vision may affect the outcome of what we are ultimately trying to achieve.
We can encourage and grow the skills of broad thinking by reading widely, joining business and trade groups, building relationships and forging connections both within and outside our industry. We should aim to develop ‘t-shaped skills’ – firstly to think broadly across disciplines, and secondly to think in depth about a variety of issues in specific subject areas.
We can then search through and reflect on our findings in order to guide our actions towards what is good for us and for our business. In addition, broad thinking requires that we do not think so much that we are unable to move towards action, or completely fail to act.
Wider Leadership Perspectives
Thinking broadly encourages an appreciation of the wider perspective. We should always think through our actions: how will our supporters, our clients and our competitors perceive our actions? How will they react? What impact will their reaction have on us and those with whom we do business in the short, medium and long term?
Although we cannot predict everything that will happen in our business or within our industry, thinking broadly about it and charting its course several steps out will at least give us a map to follow.
In summary, a combination of broad perspective and deep analysis is required in order to make great decisions. If planning is balanced with the ability to act then this will lead to greater confidence in our decisions and greater success in our ventures.