Have You Had Second Thoughts Today?

Have you had second thoughts today? If not, maybe you should. I wish I had more second thoughts. Not necessarily about where I live, the work I do, or what I wore today. No, these second thoughts are about what I say, when I listen and how I react. We have been taught that second thoughts are negative byproducts of not having enough self-confidence or a lack of trust in others or ourselves. Second thoughts don’t have to be about second-guessing ourselves, rather, they may be the very thing to keep our hubris in check. Isn’t admitting that we don’t have it all figured out one of the biggest challenges of leadership? 

I recently picked up and reread a uLEAD favorite, "Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership" by James Sipe and Don Frick. Lutheran Pastor Johan Hnderlie in the section on Demonstrating Humility says:

The Servant-Leader lives by ‘second thoughts.’ When things go wrong, the first thought is to defend oneself, look for blame, and react out of old patterns. If, however, we are open to change, if we invite a transformation in thinking and being that the Greeks called metanoia, we will wait for second thoughts. 

For me it is easy to become defensive when I feel as though my systems of operating or areas of “expertise” are being reviewed or challenged. My first instinct, my first thought, is to lock down and force the other person to prove that my ways or ideas aren’t the best. This is natural. However, I am going to take on the challenge of acknowledging my first thoughts and then rapidly transitioning to second thoughts by working at the following three practices:

1.    Take a breath and smile. Taking a breath forces me to avoid the trap of spitting out words that have no thought behind them. Smiling forces me to lower my intensity level and realize that most of the time I am not in a hostile environment. If I can begin collecting my first thoughts, it will open me up to really focusing on my second thoughts.

2.    Take notes while I listen. For me, I jot notes about the items that I find ring true or offer value. If I start to take notes of other’s critiques I will listen as though I am receiving new knowledge instead of harsh criticism. Ultimately, I will be more open to what I have to learn rather than being defensive of what I need to protect.

3.    Play the Angel’s Advocate. My boss just introduced me to this practice, which, as you may have guessed, is the opposite of its more popular cousin- playing the Devil’s Advocate. It works in a similar fashion, when someone offers an idea, suggestion, or critique, you jump on board and help argue for it as if it were your own.  Talk about perspective changing.

Hopefully these few tweaks will help me on my journey to being a more humble leader. My only questions for you is: When will you get the opportunity to use your second thoughts and will you take the challenge when that time arrives?

1. Sipe, James W.; Frick, Don M. (2009-03-02). Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership: Practicing the Wisdom of Leading by Serving (Kindle Locations 636-638). Paulist Pr. Kindle Edition.