I believe in structure. In my opinion, structured thinking leads to sound decision making. Well-constructed, structured policies provide needed guidance to an organization and the structure in a well-run organization is clearly defined.
I think that kids benefit from structure. Parents who clearly state expectations and lead by example will typically raise polite, well-behaved children. Even most adults act efficiently and purposefully when they understand their role and the boundaries they are operating within.
For my part, I think I do a reasonably good job at exercising self-discipline. I have tried to understand my role as a parent and a business leader and worked to not only define those roles, but to define my thought processes and related decision making.
When I was younger, I really believed that the more predictably consistent I was, the better example I would set for my kids and my employees. I figured that if I could define myself by my actions and my words, everyone around me would always know where they stood and what I thought and, over time, they would know those things without me necessarily needing to express them every day.
I still think those qualities are very important and a big part of my role as a parent and a leader, but as I have gotten older, I have realized how important it has been for me to be open to new ideas, different thoughts, and altogether different ways of doing things.
I was so determined to define myself, to identify a parenting and management style, that I had not considered the possibility that too much definition could lead to rigidity in decision making and possibly even the conveyance of being closed minded and too set in my ways.
Admittedly, the realization that I had to be willing to open up my well defined, structured thinking as a parent and a leader and create room for alternative views and adjustments to my thought processes did cause some anxiety for me.
I asked myself a lot of questions and, sometimes, still do. Was I being true to myself ? Would changing my mind or my course of action mean that I was changing who I was? Would I appear to be indecisive or weak if I didn’t already know exactly what I was going to do when a situation arose or a problem was presented?
With the qualifier that I am still focused on improving myself every day, which means that everything is a work in progress, I have found that once I made room in my decision making for my amorphous self, I liberated my structured self and my structured self is actually stronger and more capable with my amorphous self as a partner.
Structured thinking and actions are actually stronger when they are paired with a willingness to consider alternative methods and new approaches. Strong decision making is reliant on a defined base and a resilient foundation, sometimes referred to as your core beliefs. Those beliefs are often directly correlated to your mental and emotional well being and, as such, not very likely to change.
As I have discovered, however, there is still ample room for a variable element in your critical thinking and it is necessary to work on that aspect if you are going to relate and adjust to those around you, especially if those around you are increasingly younger than you are.
I like to have a plan. It helps me to feel that I have some control over what is happening and that I am, in some way, directing actions and decisions in a beneficial way. I also like to learn new things, meet new people, and engage in meaningful conversations and none of those things would be possible to any real degree if I was unwilling to unleash my amorphous self. The older your kids get and the more employees and colleagues you have, the truer this is.
For me, the skill I needed to work on the most to best combine these two selves was my listening. It used to be more important for me to be heard and I think that reflected my drive to define and consistently demonstrate my way of thinking. Over time, I have realized how much more I can learn simply by listening. Additionally, listening does not in any way violate my core beliefs. It doesn’t cost me anything, but time, and I have found that it has been time well spent.
Another thing that I have taught myself to do is to not fast forward to a conclusion after only gathering a few bits of information. For example, I used to fool myself into thinking I had read the news by simply skimming over the headlines. Today, I not only take the time to read the associated article, I seek out headlines and articles that I think I will be completely opposed to or had previously excluded myself from.
Embracing my amorphous self and allowing it to co-exist with my structured self has made me a better decision maker and hopefully, a more effective parent and leader.
Now, the challenge for me is finding the right balance between my structured, disciplined thoughts and my willingness to change, adjust, and implement new thoughts. I’m still working on this. Some situations require me to be very firm and others require a free-spirited approach. I’m still better in the moments that need a structured firmness, but I found my life to also be a little more exciting when I don’t always know what I am going to say or do.
I can’t tell you what the exact right balance is here, that is for you to figure out. I’m guessing the mix or balance of these two selves varies from person to person. I can tell you that the best decision makers understand these concepts and are working on not only finding that balance, but improving their structured self as well as their amorphous self.
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Patrolmen’s Federal Credit Union
Author’s Note: I am not certain if I am using amorphous correctly here. I recently came across this word, looked it up, thought it was cool, and felt that it directly applied to what I wanted to express in this article.