Objective Thinking: A Common Trait of Great CEOs

by Jul 7, 2020Advisory Groups

Taking your feelings out of the equation changes how you look at a problem–for the better.

I’ll never forget my own experience as a young man when I witnessed a horrific car accident. The incident taught me that there’s one critical trait that great CEOs and doctors share in common–they are capable of objective thinking and taking a clinical approach to problem-solving.

After sending someone else to call 911, I went to the scene to help. I was a Boy Scout, after all, and knew my first aid. But I wasn’t prepared for what I saw on the scene. One person had died on impact while another had his legs trapped in the wreckage–it was terrible. When the EMTs arrived, they had to basically cut the car away to save the life of the passenger in the back and remove the body of the one in the front.

But I distinctly remember that the first EMT arrived at the scene directly from her home and clearly became emotionally involved with the wreck. She was distraught at the scene and had become essentially helpless as she watched others work. I later learned that she decided to quit because it was too much for her. She was unable to believe, as other EMTs train themselves to say, “this is not my accident.” What that means is that they understand the need to avoid falling prisoner to their emotions when lives are at stake. Her emotions took over and the logical mind she needed to fix the problem left her for the moment.

Strong leaders are able to adopt an impartial and neutral mindset rather than an emotional one when facing thorny challenges. We’re often not at our best when we’re letting our emotions dictate our decision-making, engaging the fight-or-flight section of our brain. Some situations require us to zoom out and find an objective way to solve the problem.

The same logic is true for CEOs. I’m not saying that EMTs and CEOs are emotionless robots–they shouldn’t be. They’re passionate and empathetic humans like the rest of us, especially when it comes to their company and their employees. But when leaders approach an emotionally-charged situation, the best have learned how to rise above and analyze it from a more objective and clinical standpoint.

I’ve often seen CEOs struggle with this over the course of my career–especially those CEOs who wear their emotions on their sleeves, charging people up through their presence. Just think back to the many different difficult situations in your own life where people’s livelihoods were at stake to understand how emotionally charged running a business can be.

But you just can’t make logical decisions when your emotions are in control. You need to find a way to become more dispassionate–just like a doctor facing a difficult life-saving surgery–if you want to perform optimally and make the best possible decisions.

Business is always going to be hard and there are always going to be situations that will test your emotions. Just remember that the greatest CEOs and leaders realize that when they find themselves facing that kind of challenge, they need to put their passion for the business aside in order to think straight and achieve the most optimal outcomes.