My high school chemistry classroom had this plaque on the wall with an inscription that said: "You don't go to school to learn anything except how to think." I thought it was a strange thing to contemplate at the time because my mind said "no, we go to school to learn everything we can so we can get good jobs after we graduate from college.

thinking time

Strangely enough, I wasn't sure I believed that my first thought was all that true. I started out as a broadcasting major in college and changed majors after my first semester. Over the course of that first semester, I remember thinking that out of all the majors that the college was teaching at the time, there weren't many where one got out of college and could actually get a job in that profession. There were a couple for sure, but the rest would either take a masters degree or a lot of effort and luck to make a career out of the rest of them.

This proved to be prophetic. After graduation, I heard from a lot of people I graduated with who confirmed what I'd been thinking. Most of them said it turned out they didn't have the job skills needed to do what they'd gone to school for, and how much different the work was outside of school.

The same story held true for me. I found that my bachelors degrees left me qualified me for nothing in the business world. After floundering a couple of years, I lucked out and ended up in health care finance, for which there weren't any college classes I could have learned something from. However, learning how to think helped me progress pretty fast along the promotion track, even if I had to leave where I started so I could learn a few more skills before getting my first true leadership position in another hospital.

There's something that has to be added to the concept of learning how to think; that's having and then taking the time to think, especially if you're in a leadership position. It's something many managers and the like don't consider often enough; I know this because I've been there.

I was working my first hospital director position when, late one night, while doing some work that people who were reporting to me should have been doing, that I had an epiphany; I'd stopped thinking. Most people who attain leadership positions aren't really supposed to be doing the daily work their employees do. Helping out is one thing; actually doing the work is another.

Part one is making sure people are trained to do the jobs you've hired them to do. Part two is setting up monitoring systems so that you can see if what you've taught people to do is working the way you expected it to work.

Then comes part three, and it's this stage that many managers forget about. Part three is the thinking part, the planning part, the part where you maybe take 10 minutes, 15 minutes, a couple of hours, even a day, to think about things. What do you think about?

In his book "Paid To Think" by David Goldsmith, there are two statements that ring true. The first is "today's thinking creates tomorrow"; the second is "all management exists in the future."

What these statements mean is that you can't progress or become better without thinking about where you want to be and what you need to do to get there. If you want more sales, if you want to reduce receivables, if you want to improve customer service, or even if you want better employee relations, none of it happens without planning, and once you plan and implement, you'll be expecting to see results in the future, and hoping those results are good ones.

If you spend your days putting out fires, you'll never have time to think. If you're micro-managing staff, reading reports, going to meetings, on and on and on, you'll never have time to think. And without time to think, you'll be treading water. And anyone who's ever had to tread water knows that you can only do it so long before you get tired and, if you haven't been pushing forward, you'll drown, or fall behind.

Everything you did before you got to be a leader resulted in learning how to think and giving you tools to help you learn how to think. As a leader, your real job is to think. The best thing you can do is have good leadership skills, but unfortunately most companies put people in positions of leadership to makes things better. You can't make anything better if you don't put time into thinking about processes and ways to get better.

If you haven't been taking enough time to think as a leader, it's probably the first thing you need to ponder; how do "I" find more time to think about "our" future?

With thinking, the skies the limit!