2013-08-11 iStock_000025261076XS2mallHow often have we said this to ourselves and discovered unintended consequences. As leaders we know that others are always watching what we do and listening and reacting to what we say. And, when we are with the folks in the office, in the factory or in the field, most of us are conscious of what we say and how we show up.

I wonder though, if we have this same awareness as leaders when we are with our leadership team. Or for that matter, when as members of the leadership team we are with our bosses and our colleagues. You may be thinking (silently?) so, are you saying I want to be aware of what I am saying all the time? Yikes!!

My sense is the answer is yes. When we think out loud, sometimes we create expectations, alarm or even actions that we did not intend. Recently, one of my clients shared this story: “I was sitting in my office with my VP of Operations and I was thinking out loud, wondering what we needed to do next to get to the growth goals I have. I was going on and on about my frustrations and concerns. Next day, he came back into my office and asked me if I was planning to sell the company. He apparently had gone home and thought about what I had said all night”.

I find that if I have the presence to simply say, “May I think out loud for a moment?” or “Can I just vent for a moment?”, that frames the conversation. Sometimes this pausing reminds me that it is best to simply ‘zip it’.

What has been your experience?

Elisa K. Spain


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  • Marsh Carter

    Elisa–I found that “thinking out loud” for CEOs was/is a bad policy—unless
    the people in the audience are the most senior of the company. A low level
    person hears the CEO say things like…”I have some doubts about our strategy
    in Europe’–next thing you know that person has repeated in the cafeteria line
    the thought that the CEO doesn’t support the European strategy. perhaps a
    better technique is to pose the questions as questions or options not as
    thinking outside the box or out loud.

    A perhaps bigger issue for CEOs–who in the company can you truly confide in?
    Perhaps no one…I was lucky in 10 years as CEO of a Fortune 500 company–the
    HR person, who had been a senior line exec until I asked her to run HR, was my
    age and she knew she was not in line as my replacement and had been at the
    company 30 years….she and I could confide easily as we were the same age and
    background and there was no competition. Some execs/CEOs find it easier to
    hire an outside consultant to help but I’ve never felt comfortable with

    • EKSpain


      Great point about the flip side, finding someone you can think out loud with. And, if not internally, which is often the case, Vistage members have a great resource in their chair and their group as a place to go to think out loud.

  • I enjoyed reading your recent article. I encourage my clients to create context before they “share their thinking”. So, your advice to frame the question, comment or concern works for me. I think this is fairly low risk compared to playing everything close to the vest and leaving people wondering what you’re thinking.

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