Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Examining Our Habits of Thinking

This morning I had the most wonderful treat…my monthly Thai massage! I lay on a mat for ninety minutes while my masseuse used her hands, her feet, her body, and herbal balls to loosen my muscles and release stress pent up in different parts of my body. It was absolutely blissful!!! And to think that I almost talked myself out of trying this type of massage!

While in Prague a couple of years ago, my friend Karyn and I happen to walk past a Thai massage parlor. Karyn became very excited about the prospect of getting a Thai massage and proposed that we make an appointment. I vividly remember my reaction. I took a deep breath and said resolutely that I did not think I wanted someone “walking all over my body.” When she asked me if I had ever had a Thai massage, I had to embarrassingly admit that I had never been in a Thai massage parlor.

I realize now that my response had been fueled by my own imagination of what I thought a Thai massage was. I have no idea how I made this inferential leap that the masseuse would be “walking all over my body” but obviously I had some data and experiences in the recesses of my subconscious mind that very swiftly surfaced to lead me to this bizarre conclusion. Thank goodness I have a very patient friend who shared her experiences and suggested I give it try. I finally acquiesced and of course, I have been hooked on Thai massages ever since. But, I haven’t forgotten how the limitations of my own thinking, primarily untested assumptions, contributed to me making a decision that led to me avoiding this type of massage for years.

How many times have you made such an inferential leap and come to a conclusion that did not make much sense to some of the people around you? You may have even had difficulty explaining how you arrived at your conclusion and instead of opening yourself to others’ perspectives to enlarge your view, you quietly dug your heels in to defend your Truth (notice the capital T?). In the Fifth Discipline Field book, Rick Ross points out that our ability to achieve the results we truly desire can be eroded by our thinking that:

· Our beliefs are the Truth

· TheTruth is obvious

· Our beliefs are based on real data

· That data we select are the real data

The problem is…we usually don’t have all the data or we have selected the data that conveniently reinforces our stance or belief. AND, sometimes we have constructed our own reality that only makes sense to us. In the case of the massage, my somewhat distorted Truth only impacted me and delayed my gratification. No big deal! However, in an organizational setting, the limitations in our thinking can limit our ability to perceive reality which in turn hampers our ability to identify and address the real issues. Consequently, organizational effectiveness is suboptimized.

In today’s world of complex issues and unprecedented challenges, the ability to either challenge our own assumptions or allow our assumptions to be challenged by others is an often overlooked leadership competence but perhaps the one significant competitive advantage organizations possess. Examining, understanding, and perhaps, changing our habits of thinking to increase our ability to see more complexity in the world should be part of any leadership development process. In her book, Changing on the Job, Berger points out that “from a developmental perspective, real growth requires some qualitative shift, not just in knowledge, but in perspective or way of thinking.” So, how can we support the development of critical thinking skills in organizational leaders?

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