From Solitary Contemplation to Collaborative Excellence: Why Working with a Coach Trumps Isolation for Leaders
A new psychological investigation led by the University of Virginia suggests that most people are uncomfortable being alone with their thoughts. The researchers found that individuals would rather engage in activities, even if they may be harmful, than spend time doing nothing or sitting alone with their thoughts. The study involved 11 experiments with participants of different ages, and the results consistently showed that people preferred external activities such as listening to music or using smartphones over introspection. Some participants even preferred giving themselves mild electric shocks rather than engaging in solitary thinking.
The researchers noted that even older individuals did not show a particular fondness for being alone with their thoughts. The prevalence of electronic devices like smartphones was seen as a response to people’s desire to always have something to do rather than a cause of discomfort.
Surveys have shown that people generally prefer not to disengage from the world and do not enjoy it when they do. The experiments revealed that participants found it difficult to concentrate and experienced wandering thoughts during the thinking period, even when there were no distractions. Participants reported similar experiences when given the opportunity to be alone with their thoughts at home.
Additional experiments showed that individuals enjoyed external activities more than solitary thinking, and many participants preferred unpleasant activities to no activity at all. In fact, some individuals administered mild electric shocks to themselves, even though they had earlier expressed a willingness to pay to avoid them.
The researchers suggested that people may find it challenging to be alone with their thoughts because the mind is naturally inclined to engage with the outside world. Spontaneous daydreaming or fantasizing may be more enjoyable than deliberate, controlled thinking.
Taking all of this into account, it shouldn’t be too surprising that for many if not most leaders, solitary braining over strategies or solutions to problems is viewed as a less preferred activity. The study discussed earlier suggests that people, in general, find it difficult and uncomfortable to be alone with their thoughts, even for brief periods of time. This aversion to introspection and solitary thinking may extend to leaders as well.
Leaders often have demanding schedules and are constantly engaged in various external activities such as meetings, decision-making, and managing their teams. The study suggests that individuals prefer external engagement and stimulation over internal reflection. Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that many leaders may gravitate towards activities that involve interaction, problem-solving with others, or seeking external input rather than spending time alone strategizing or pondering solutions to problems.
It is important to note that different individuals may have varying preferences and approaches to problem-solving. While some leaders may find it challenging to engage in solitary braining, others may value and actively seek out such introspective moments to develop strategies and find innovative solutions. Effective leadership often requires a balance between external engagement and internal reflection, as both can provide valuable insights and perspectives, so ultimately, the aversion to solitary thinking discussed in the study should be taken as a general tendency rather than a definitive characteristic of all leaders. Individual preferences and approaches to strategizing can vary significantly based on personality traits, leadership style, and the specific demands of the situation at hand.
That said, leaders often rely on interaction and when working out strategies and solutions, which is why collaboration with a coach can lead to greater clarity, innovation, and success than attempting to go it alone in a closed room.
Here are some reasons why coaching can be beneficial for leaders:
1. External Perspective: A coach can provide an external perspective that is free from biases or preconceived notions. This fresh perspective can help leaders see situations from different angles, challenge their assumptions, and consider alternative solutions that they may not have thought of on their own.
2. Thought Partnership: A coach serves as a thought partner for leaders, engaging in reflective conversations and active listening. Through deep inquiry and probing questions, coaches can help leaders clarify their thoughts, explore possibilities, and uncover underlying beliefs or patterns that may be influencing their decision-making.
3. Confidentiality and Safe Space: Coaching provides a confidential and safe space for leaders to freely express their thoughts, concerns, and challenges without fear of judgment or repercussions. This allows leaders to explore sensitive or complex issues openly, which can lead to greater self-awareness and insight.
4. Development of Strategic Thinking Skills: While leaders may have a preference for collaborative thinking, coaching can still support the development of strategic thinking skills. A coach can help leaders refine their critical thinking abilities, enhance their problem-solving techniques, and encourage them to consider multiple perspectives before making decisions.