To Think Or Not To Think

I apologize in advance…this is a long one.

I’ve often proposed that you should employ “thinkers” to ensure your organization moves forward. While I stand behind that theory steadfast, I admit I’ve seen some disastrous situations unfold as a result of under trained or improperly placed individuals. Or, worse, great people were placed in stifling environments, eventually conditioned to keep their ideas to themselves. In either case, I’ve seen things go into the crapper just the same. So, what to do?

Stick with thinkers…and fix your approach.

There are two basic ways to go about doing business when you have employees:

The easiest and still the most common method (because there are so many models to duplicate) is to adopt “old school” command and control tactics and set-up a working environment perfectly designed to serve one cause…protect the company’s financial well being. Put a number of people in charge, hire a bunch of drones, create as many rules, SOP’s and procedures to be sure no one steps out of line and beat it in to employees to “do good for the company and we all win”. This may sound extreme and far fetched. Or, it may sound eerily familiar. How do you know? Your workplace is average, your product is average, your price is average, the guy sitting next to you is average. No one takes risks, no one argues or debates, no one puts forth crazy ideas. No hail mary’s, not even a reverse. No one is having any fun. Everyone does just enough to get by.

If you set-up your company or department this way…for people to just get by, that’s exactly what will happen. They will perform just well enough to keep their jobs. And, you as a leader and your organization will be average in the process. Ask GM, American Airlines, any major bank or the less than stellar sandwich shop down the street.

On the other hand, you could try something different. You could take a few chances and set-up your company to be really great…for everyone.

Passionate, imaginative, creative people have a natural tendency to prosper and to be successful. And, they want to be with others just like them. They don’t want to be average. And, they certainly don’t want to fail. All you have to do is get a core of these folks on your team, put them into a position to win and get out of their way. The rest will take care of itself.

Getting them on the bus

Hiring these sorts of people takes guts, patience, compassion…and money. It means you’ll pay more than everyone else and care for them like your children. And, you’ll listen, even if you know their ideas are wrong.


Having winners on your team is only half the battle of winning. Put the right person in the wrong position or give them responsibility they can’t handle (no training and/or no tools) and the game’s over before you get started. The key is to put people in the right seat on the bus (thanks for the analogy Jim Collins), train the mechanics until they become second nature and set-up just enough rules to keep people out of trouble and to free their minds to “think”. You don’t want them thinking how to complete the report. You want them thinking about how to best serve people. Yes, mistakes will be made, sometimes costly. But, it’s a small price to pay for fabulous ideas, exceptional service and blowing the doors off your competition.

Keep winning

Finally, it’s vitally important to keep the winning, thinking culture alive if you’re going to sustain success for the company and for everyone involved. Remember, remarkable people want to be a part of something important and they want to prosper. So, give it to them. Reward them for thinking differently, for taking a chance…even for making a mistake. When something works, give them stock, bonuses…and genuine appreciation. When something doesn’t work, give them credit for trying, be nice…and listen to the next idea. Then, talk about avoiding the mistake in the future.

To win, failure must be accepted and even encouraged if the end result is better than the missteps along the way. A great leader has the foresight to embrace that concept ahead of time.