Over time I’ve come realize that leaders can easily succumb to a disease called, “Mindless Mingling.” Mindless mingling occurs when the thinking life of a leader experiences a deficit because of limited knowledge capital or a limited relational network. In other words, how I think is limited by what I know, who I know, or who I listen to. I become “mind-less” because I “mingle” with the same people and draw from the same pool of knowledge. Mindless mingling is characterized by two truths:
Truth #1: Leaders are Conflicted with Thoughtless Action – One strength many leaders possess is the ability to intuitively make decisions. They don’t always have to stop and think about what to do in a given situation. They simply act on their intuition–which is often dead on.
So where does the conflict come in? Because leaders don’t have to think, they often don’t. In other words, because leaders are action-oriented, they have difficulty slowing down to reflect, evaluate, and think carefully about the situation before them. I’ve heard seasoned leaders state that the longer you lead, the more important it becomes to set aside “think time.” For action-oriented leaders, think time feels like a waste of time. They ask, “Why do I need to set aside think time when I can make decisions that are usually right?” The reason is because of truth #2.
Truth #2: People in General, Including Leaders, Prefer Being with Like-Minded People – There’s nothing profound about that truth, so let me put it into context by sharing a quote from Author and Pastor, Andy Stanley: “If you are surrounded long enough by people who think like you think, you will become more and more certain that’s the best way to think.”
This is where thoughtless action gets leaders into trouble. Action-based leadership becomes so routine that you no longer stop to think whether or not your actions reflect best practices. The only way you will know will be to intentionally stop and set aside some quality “think time.”
Three Ideas to Help You Set Aside “Think Time” to Overcome “Mindless Mingling”:
1. Get Outside of Your Normal Growth Inputs
It is so easy to go back to the same well to drink. Why? Because at that well we find ideas and people we are comfortable being around. To avoid becoming stale, predictable, and confined to our routine strategies, requires that we get around people who will challenge our thinking, not just pump us full of more of the same ideas.
That sounds so basic, so let me say it in the form of some questions: “What was the last conference you attended that was outside your denomination?” “What was the last book you read that was outside your professional field?” “When was the last time you hung around a leader to understand how they think rather than what they do?” Your answers to these questions will reveal your growth inputs. If you’re always surrounded by the same people, your growth inputs may be getting clogged with larger quantities of old ideas. Getting outside your normal growth inputs will provide content to stimulate fresh thinking.
2. Combine Reading, Reflection, and Writing
I have found that some of my best “think time” occurs while reading. Rather than simply reading a chapter and then going about the activities of the day, consider tacking on 15 minutes of think time to your reading time. Read, reflect, and then write. Reflective thinking (one of the five practices of personal growth) will help you capture your greatest take-a-ways and find application points for what you are reading.
3. Meet Regularly with a Leader Who Stretches You
I have a leader that I meet with at least twice per month who continually sharpens me. While we are close friends, we are also avid learners. I’m able to sharpen him with what I’m learning and he’s able to sharpen me with what he’s learning. Scripture calls it an “iron sharpens iron” relationship. If all of your meetings are with people who require something from you, your thinking will always be limited by what you currently know. When the level of your output exceeds the level of your input, the effectiveness of your output will be diminished by the deficit of your input. Let that one sink in for a moment.
Do you suffer from “mindless mingling?” There’s a good chance you answered that question with an emphatic “No!” So let me ask it another way. “What conferences have you attended, what books have you read, and what leaders have you interacted with in the last 5 months that have changed how you think not just what you do?”