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How the “Just Do It” philosophy is dangerous for leaders, by Chris Schafer

“Making a wrong decision is understandable. Refusing to search continually for learning is not.” Philip B Crosby

An article from Chris Schafer
“Don’t think just do.” were the words I heard between a doubleheader at my son’s High School. How can that be a good method to operate, I thought out loud. “You need to have a plan before you take action. You don’t launch the ball towards the infield. The infield doesn’t just throw the ball towards the pitcher every time there’s a hit. You have to think about the situation and have a plan of action.” I said looking at my son. “Yeah but these guys take too long when the ball is coming at them. Just do it!” My son stated in frustration glancing towards the dugout. The defeating part for my son was knowing that there is a problem and not having the time to critically think about the solution before the next game.

How many times does this same frustration manifest itself at your work, where the people surrounding you seem unfocused and aggravatingly slow? Where one finds themselves pondering how to fix the problem or to give up and agree with the old adage “If you want it done right do it yourself.”? The former takes critical thinking where the latter will heap on additional responsibilities and lead to employee dissatisfaction. The real questions for business leaders and managers is how to create an environment that functions profitably at the speed of business.

Pondering a solution to complex problems takes critical thinking. Critical thinking is routinely overlooked by leaders and managers in their efforts to find solutions. Just do it, may be a good marketing slogan but is useless for most endeavors including my son’s baseball team and business organizations. Rarely is there a time where acting on instinct is profitable. For an excellent article on this read the HBR article titled How to act quickly without sacrificing critical thinking by Jesse Sustain.

Outside of the military or first responders, organizations do not have situations that require acting on instinct. Even inside these occupations instincts are shaped through a set of per planned responses to a given event. For the military, there are battle drills. Battle drills are rehearsed until they are muscle memory and can be executed within seconds after a command is given. They are simplistic, easily remembered, and work well for times when thinking is not an option. Battle Drill’s leverage the flight or flight response in our brains and only at advanced levels of training are these basic instincts overridden. This is when the flight response is approached from a position of critical thinking that takes into account the probability of effects and reactions of executing an action. The military teaches the acronym OODA (Observe Orientate Decide and Act) loop. OODA is trained as a loop because it loops back on itself repeating the process until a positive outcome is achieved. Essentially it is a sped up version of critical thinking for the warfighter. At a simplistic level, it’s a profitable method for teaching members of any team how to quickly make better decisions in bad situations.

The game of baseball is not unlike a company, business, or team in the corporate world. Like baseball teams, they need the right people in the right positions at the right time to win or create positive ROI. Highly effective organizations have individuals that can substitute one person to cover another when needed. To reach this level of performance managers and leaders need to ensure that training is done in a method that will teach the necessary skills to be effective at a particular task and provide latitude to be creative in unfamiliar territory. To do this effectively critical thinking skills are required. In an article on critical thinking by the International Institute of Directors & Managers, it had this to say.

“Critical thinking is essential for the leadership of an organization because they have a different mindset on how to operate and function.“Critical thinkers think differently about their impact on the organisation – understanding how their decisions and actions influence business both inside and outside their narrow functional silos. These leaders are able to balance department or team issues with broader company issues and embrace a larger responsibility for the success of the organisation. This keen sense of accountability is what enables them to execute for results now while fulfilling their obligations to positively impact the future.”

To define critical thinking Wayup.com points out that in an environment with many changing dynamics, critical thinking is purposeful and productive.
“In general, critical thinking is the ability to deal with the contradictions and problems of a tumultuous environment in a reasoned, purposeful, productive way. Decisions are made using an approach that is fair, objective, accurate and based on information that is relevant to the situation.”

For organizations with a need to change how they play the game to keep pace with an ever-changing environment, leaders must train themselves to resist the urge to “Just do it” or act on instinct. The leader that masters critical thinking in stressful situations and implements processes that include critical thinking within difficult constraints will create better ROI. The organization that teaches these methods to their team members will outpace the competition. Below are some actions to take to help with decision making and critical thinking gathered from the book Intrepid Professionals:

Write down a list of people who are dependent on and influenced by the decisions you make. You impact the people immediately around you. You impact the people they touch. You impact future generations who are watching you. You are an impact whether you want to be or not. Does that awareness change the way you make decisions?

Decisions are nothing more than a pivotal time in your history that either validate the path you are on or divert your path on another course. It is necessary for growth, learning, and mastery of anything great. Write down five things that you know about yourself in regard to decision making. Now, write down five abilities you know you possess or will be working on as you face the next decision. Lastly, imagine that big decision happening now. What precisely are you going to do?

How are you preparing to make the next decision? What is your habit when your planned outcome is challenged, blocked, or simply fails? Think back to the last quick decision you made; review why you took your actions. What can you learn from the results of the last decision you made about past measurable outcomes such as profit or loss?


CHRIS SCHAFER is a retired Green Beret and the COO of Tactical16 Publishing. He is an expert in leadership and business development with 13 years of experience. Chirs Co-Author the book Intrepid professionals. A book that equips executives, managers, entrepreneurs and self-improvement seekers to understand and leverage principles of the military mindset. Chirs has advised foreign militaries, worked in 20 countries, and with numerous U.S. agencies including the FBI and DEA. He resides with his wife and children in beautiful Colorado.

You may also email Chris here, or call him at 719.398.8002.


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