Leadership in Action – Our Blink Response Makes for Bad Leadership

The immediate assumptions we wrap around ideas and information is our blink response. (Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book, Blink, about this very response). Our blink response is based on our past experience and knowledge; it allows us to make effective gut decisions. These quick responses are very efficient and help us to be effective as an individual. Unfortunately, as a leader, the blink response can get in the way. When someone gives us an idea, our blink response kicks in and within nanoseconds we respond “yes” or “no.” The perception is that we didn’t even think about it, especially when we say “no.”

As leaders, we may assume that it is our job to say “yes” or “no” to ideas. We need to replace that assumption with a new one – as leaders, it is our job to encourage our team to generate new ideas. Once we have that assumption in place, our actions change to engaging individuals into translating ideas into solutions. So, instead of saying “yes” or “no” to ideas, we need another way to decide if an idea is worth pursuing or not.

Our yes-or-no decision was based on some underlying criteria. If one of our goals now is to engage our staff in translating ideas into solutions, we need explicit criteria for determining if an idea is good or not. The criteria we want to use (and share with our team) is:
• Will the solution help us meet the goal?
• Does it follow the strategy?
• Is it consistent with our values?
• Do we have a budget for it?

We engage our team in the evaluative process by asking questions such as:
• What would the idea look like?
• How would you roll that idea out as a solution?
• How does that help us with our goal?
• Is this idea consistent with our strategy and values?
• Can we justify the expense?

By asking our direct reports these kinds of questions, they may come up with the same conclusion that we have, or, we may realize that we were missing some key ideas or information. In either case, it’s a win-win as we have demonstrated to our direct reports that we are interested in new ideas. We’ve also created an explicit set of criteria for how to judge an idea.

The more that you use these questions, the more your direct reports will start using them as well, internally filtering ideas before sharing them. To be an effective leader, we need to slow down the Blink response and Connect the Dots before we say “yes” or “no” to an idea.