Think fast and speak slow

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After finishing the James Bond movie, Spectre, Daniel Craig was asked about the prospect of continuing in the franchise. His response was a classic example of thinking fast and then speaking fast. He stated that he would rather slash his wrists than play the role again. A year on from that statement and his responses to similar questions are more nuanced.

Having a leadership role comes with the expectation of clear thinking and decisive action. The belief is that a ‘natural’ leader will be ahead of the crowd. A recent study discussed in the Harvard Business Review IdeaCast (539) drew similar conclusions. It identified a common trait across all cultures for people to describe a person as charismatic when they responded quickly to questions and situations. The response didn’t have to be 100% right, it just had to be fast.

The value of a rapid response is that it imparts authority and direction. Some leaders will argue that it saves time, effort and money to come to a rapid decision, even when the decision is less than perfect. Theodore Roosevelt said that ‘In any moment of decision, the best thing that you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing that you can do is nothing.’

These features of charisma and leadership are significant but should not be confused with thinking fast and speaking fast – saying the first thing that comes into your head. Thinking fast is essential in leadership. It enables different scenarios to be considered, outcomes to be balanced and decisions made about the way forward. Rarely though does a situation demand that fast thinking is followed by an immediate pronouncement.

Once words have been spoken or written they take on a life of their own, and they cannot be made to disappear. Daniel Craig may be more reflective and open to different options a year on from his dramatic declaration but the words are here to stay.

When fast thinking is followed by fast speaking the potential for later corrections increases, and frequent corrections or adaptations make the leader appear inconsistent. Inconsistency rapidly undermines any notion of a person being an effective leader and can make them appear to be untrustworthy.

In most cases the appropriate combination is to be quick to think and (comparatively) slow to speak. We can all be inconsistent, incorrect and indecisive in our heads and the world is none the wiser. Once we speak judgements begin to be made.

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