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Why We Have a Leadership Crisis - Part 4 | Too “Surfacey”

I know, my English minor self cringes along with you at the made up word “surfacey”, yet none of the other real words captured the point.

Here’s the point: we are in a leadership crisis in part because leaders don’t intentionally go deep in thought, in experience, and in life.

Leaders, like everyone else, are in survival mode.

Leaders are too “surfacey.”

Thanks to Covid-19, survival thinking is not only increasing, but a recent survey found a majority (64%) think it is a necessity (

By definition, survival mode is:

  • Focused on staying safe in the here and now

  • No extra bandwidth to focus on tomorrow

  • No time for growth because we may need that energy to fight off an attack

  • Minimal to no learning

Survival thinking is important for our fight or flight response to real danger. Yet it is only intended for a finite amount of time. If it becomes a chronic way of thinking we are left with “surfacey.”

Here are a few characteristics of a “surfacey” leader:

  • Does not schedule time to think

  • Let’s their calendar run their day

  • Does not seek out or engage new ideas

  • Anxious

  • Suspicious

  • Assumes

  • Does not ask questions

  • Processes information quickly in order to move on without investigating facts

  • Rarely asks for input or feedback, and when it is received considers it an attack

  • Conforms to societal demands in most, if not all, things

In her TEDX talk, Dr. Heather Collins shares the opposite of surface thinking is successful thinking. In order to engage in successful thinking, there are three things we must do on a consistent basis:

  • Be aware of your thoughts

  • Be curious about your world

  • Engage with your environment

When these things are completed, metacognition occurs.

For those of us who need a refresher on metacognition, it is thinking about our thinking.

When is the last time you thought about your thoughts?

Do you regularly review your thought processes and patterns and understand why you think (and therefore act) the way you do?

As Lenovo found in their 2022 study on thinking, surface level thinking is the go-to thinking style.

Scary, eh?

Not too long ago, a study asked participants to look at two pictures of politicians and determine which one would win an election. Participants did select the winner with sufficient accuracy - in 1/10 of a second.

The selection didn’t come that quickly based on verified fact. It came from surface thinking that judged physical attractiveness as the #1 reason to win an election.

Unfortunately, making a decision based on what our senses sense is not the best way to move through life, especially for leaders.

It is dangerous to use surface thinking to make decisions outside of a dangerous situation.

Surface thinking does not foster learning.

Surface thinking does not encourage growth.

Here’s the scary part: if your brain isn’t learning and growing, it is dying.

Like many other things in the natural world, entropy is real in our brain.

It is frightening to think how many leaders are making important decisions using dying brains.

The good news is even if we have been skimming the surface, we can bolster our brain to be more inclined to think successfully.

A study demonstrated that by putting the brain through spacial learning training for only two hours showed a definable improvement to the brain’s information super highways.

An MRI scan was performed before and after the training, and the second scan showed reduction in “holes” in the white matter tracks that play an important role in helping the brain communicate with itself and make good, informed decisions about the environment.

I’m going to ask again: when was the last time you thought about your thoughts?

Do you set aside consistent time to think about why you do what you do?

Do you ask questions as a default, or assume and make quick decisions?

The answer to these questions determines if we are part of the leadership crisis, or if we are engaged in turning this crisis around.

Authentic leaders hone habits to think below the surface, invite deep experiences, and be WITH.


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