Incito Leadership and Executive Coaching


Do Effective Leaders Think or Contemplate?

Contemplating issues as a leader

In taking a documentary filmmaking course last week that deeply focused on presence and witnessing someone’s experience and story, we got talking about contemplation and presence.  It all started from a conversation about thinking and contemplation and we all settled on contemplation being about presence and bearing witness to our own thoughts.  Now this might sound all philosophical and in many ways it is, yet I see distinct connection between our willingness make space to contemplate and our leadership effectiveness.

Cutting away the noise and sitting with a topic for deeper contemplation is directly linked to systems and strategic thinking.  Stepping back and reflecting when someone asks you for your thoughts helps you resist the quick and off the cuff answer allowing deeper consideration of varying perspectives, elements, and impact.

Do you think or contemplate?  I’ve been pondering the difference.  Perhaps I’m splitting hairs and I’m finding through the exploration that there is a profound difference to understand.

When leaders become fully present and develop the awareness to notice subtle patterns of their own and other’s behavior, group dynamics and organizational processes, they are better able to make decisions and manage situations simply because they see details and what is really going on more clearly. 

So what’s the difference between thinking and contemplation?  Well, Wikipedia says: Though thinking is an activity considered essential to humanity, there is no consensus as to how we define or understand it.  Yet, I’ve determined a working definition for both thinking and contemplation based on how I have observed the use of these two words.


To sit with. To be present. To explore.  Full or deep consideration and reflection.

The action of looking, observing or studying something thoughtfully for a long time.

It’s a deeper awareness and persistent exploration.  Aimless and Free.  You don’t know what to expect from it.  It leaves you open to the unknown and allows you to consider complexities and many potential outcomes.  Contemplation often elicits more questions.


Thinking is often about figuring something out.  Its focused and directed towards a specific decision.  Thinking is less about exploration and more about the process of using our minds to consider and reason something to get us to a rational judgement.  Thinking is often about pushing toward and identifying right answers. To get to a specific decision, opinion or judgement.

So how do we move beyond thinking to contemplation?

When we shift towards making space for contemplation, we allow ourselves the space for strategic thinking, systems thinking, creating and stepping into the unknown.  Doing so allows us to create a mind freer from distractions and see situations and issues from new perspectives.  It’s inherently vulnerable stepping into the unknown.

Slow down.  Contemplation requires you to pay attention.  It requires to you give your whole heart and mind to something. Don’t believe everything you think, contemplation requires you to challenge your own perspectives, assumptions and thinking.

If you want to support your team in moving from thinking to contemplation and exploration, taking a coaching approach can help them do this. You can’t support someone’s exploration rapid firing questions at them or solving the problem for them. When you have a team member approach you with a situation they are struggling with and you’re ready to give a quick answer, ask yourself, what am I doing this for?  Am I trying to provoke something? Where are the words coming from?  What need is behind your words?  Sure, there are times you need to help your team member find a quick and correct answer but often there is opportunity to challenge their thinking, help them contemplate, consider and develop new wisdom to help them be more effective in finding their own ideas and solutions to complex issues in the future.

So, do effective leaders think or contemplate?  I believe they do both.

Jenn Lofgren