The Benefits Of Thinking Out Loud

It’s easy to get a bad rap if we don’t take the time to explain our actions to those most affected. Sounds simple I know but…often overlooked!  It took a while for me but eventually I developed this awareness as seen through the eyes of others. Ever since, I have tried to generically describe some of my behaviors in order to give those I work with the opportunity to better understand my thought process and hopefully then to feel more of a purpose in their responsibilities. In some cases, doing so helped rationalize what otherwise could appear as indecisiveness while in other cases it provided invaluable ‘teachable moments.’

‘Think in parallel, not in series:’

‘Now what do we do?’  Words often uttered when we hit a wall and a plan fails; disappointment, frustration, no fallback position. The polar opposite isn’t any better; ‘why am I doing this if they’re following other paths…I’m just wasting my time?’ In leadership positions we have an obligation to consider multiple courses of action and, often of necessity, many of us pursue a number of them simultaneously.  This doesn’t imply uncertainty but it can result in bad optics!

One personal example—a small plant had been producing an embryonic product line for several years.  We were past failsafe; existing customers for other products liked the new additions and new customers were steadily coming on board as well. Unfortunately the same small plant was losing money every month; the more we produced, the more we lost. There was no way to scale it; it lacked capacity, it was leased and worse, it was land locked. Our options: relocate to a larger facility in the same area and in that way retain the employee base, move production to another plant, outsource production to an established manufacturer and import.

You guessed it—we simultaneously pursued all of these knowing that if we focused on only one and it failed, we would impair our customers’ businesses and in so doing significantly harm our own. Did we have redundant costs by doing so…you bet?  We got through the transition leading with one option but ultimately settling on another which took longer to implement. To our customers the changes were seamless, but not so to our leadership team. A number of project managers seriously questioned why they had been asked to carry out their assignments knowing they were competing with at least three others having the same goal.

It was a perfect storm to get tagged as an indecisive leader, wasteful and lacking focus and despite the positive outcome…that’s exactly what happened.  Especially in my early career, working for Fortune 500 companies, I often questioned (silently) what logic there was in our ‘assignments’ especially when they didn’t visibly align with the general direction that had been set by senior leadership. I knew the feeling well!

Since then I’ve worked hard to be an open book, freely sharing my thought process with regard to critical decisions. Those we work with hopefully don’t reason exactly as we do and certainly can’t read our minds. What better than to be ‘team-friendly’ as we set multiple courses to achieve a critical goal, sharing not only the parallel paths that need to be followed but also the reasons why. Doing so may help rationalize why a ‘plan B’ is on the launch pad and ready to go though it may never be needed. Most importantly, adding as much transparency to critical decision making will go a long way to instilling confidence in the team that there is logic and purpose to their role.

Lesson learned.

Read more: It Pays To Break Away From Being A Creature Of Habit

Fred Engelfried
Fred Engelfried is Director/Chair of North Coast Holdings, Inc. and its subsidiary Lewis Tree Service, Inc. He has been a member of the board of directors of Lewis for over 20 years, and for 10 years prior to that worked with the company intermittently in various consulting capacities. He also is President of Market Sense Inc., a participative management firm that has served more than 100 regional clients over 35 years.