Adopting a proposal mindset

Adopting a proposal mindset can be key to getting to yes more often, more collaboratively, and more efficiently. Not to mention with less time wasted. It is an intentional way of thinking when presenting topics for discussion and decision-making, whether in your professional or personal life. Learn how and why.

What do I mean by a proposal mindset and what’s involved?

Developing a way of thinking that automatically constructs one’s thoughts in a proposal format can simplify and speed up decision-making, enable informed opinion rather than ‘I feel that…’, and reduces time spent by others analyzing and assessing the implications and potential solutions of an issue, whether large or small.

So often, both in one’s work and one’s personal life, one makes suggestions or proposes a change or enhancement, often only verbally, and many times without any thought given to how to make ‘it’ happen. Usually words like: “you/we should” or “you/we must” are used, rather than “for your consideration” or “for our discussion”.

Often too, the background to why you’re making the suggestion or proposal isn’t provided. It’s assumed the other person knows the context, which can lead to a lack of clarification or misunderstandings.

Early in my career, my boss at the time taught me a great lesson in how to be more effective and get decisions made more efficiently without wasting time. So began the development of my proposal mindset.

To explain. In my role as Public Relations Officer at the Natal Parks, Game & Fish Preservation Board, it was easier for me to simply knock-on John Vincent’s office door and ask him the background to something or how to do something. It made sense to me because in my mind it was highly likely that he knew the answer. It didn’t occur to me that every time I knocked on his door, I was interrupting whatever he was working on, quite aside from no doubt irritating him. This went on for a while until one day John stopped me in my tracks. He said words to this effect: “Jane, what do you think is the answer? If you don’t know, research it, prepare an outline and a suggested solution, then bring it to me for approval or input. Figure it out for yourself first.”

Throughout my career since then, I have used the concept of presenting a proposal for most situations, whether for my work or in my volunteer leadership positions, or even in my personal life. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s more about the thought process than presenting a formal proposal.

If I want to bring people together to agree on something, discuss a potential change, or practically any time when more than one person is involved in decision-making, I develop a form of proposal. As I mentioned, it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, the simpler the better. It can be an e-mail, a one-page document, or an outline that you put together to discuss with someone before putting it in writing. The key is to make it easier and quicker for others involved to evaluate, input to and approve actions or make decisions.

What’s involved in developing a proposal mindset?

Well, for me, it’s getting into the habit of thinking things through before making a suggestion or putting forward an idea. I find writing it down helps clarify what it is I’m wanting or suggesting and why the other person might be interested. It’s about asking myself some or all of these questions depending on the circumstance:

  • What’s the situation today/what are the potential challenges/what’s the need?
  • Why is this important? To whom?
  • What questions need to be addressed?
  • Who needs to be involved and/or will be impacted?
  • What are the possible solution/s or benefits of adopting your proposal or suggestion?
  • What resources will be needed – financial, people, equipment?
  • By when does ‘it’ need to be done and who is responsible for making it happen?

I’m sure you’ll see that this can apply to whether you’re making travel plans with your partner or suggesting a restructure of your organization. The principles and way of thinking are more or less the same.

What are the benefits of adopting a proposal mindset?

There are many benefits to adopting a proposal mindset. In addition to those I mentioned above: informed opinion; increased efficiency; simplified and faster decision-making, and reduced time spent by executive leadership on analyzing and assessing the implications and potential solutions of an issue.

Even though the proposal or suggestion itself may not be accepted, presenting it in this way provides the background for discussion and a framework to use. Proposals present ideas or solutions more clearly, ensure that you have thought things through thoroughly before taking them to others, and reduce the possibility of misunderstandings that often happen when suggestions are made verbally.

Encouraging a proposal mindset is also a great way to help your team members grow their leadership capacity. This practice allows them to step back and ask more strategic questions, sharpen their critical thinking ability, and instill a sense of ownership when they are directly contributing to designing and implementing solutions. As one of my current clients said: “Without my leadership team taking ownership, I can’t take a step back from the day-to-day running of our organization and focus on more strategic issues.”

Another subtle yet important nuance is that a proposal approach potentially helps create a more collaborative workplace. In other words, the organization will nurture and grow more “co-creators” than operating in a traditional hierarchal set-up. Furthermore, it can support a culture where everyone has something to teach and something to learn.


My takeaway for you is that developing a proposal mindset so that it becomes a normal approach for you and your team will be both rewarding and effective. Adopting an intentional way of thinking when presenting topics for discussion and decision-making leads to getting to yes more often, more collaboratively, efficiently and with less time wasted. If you’d like to know more or sign up for coaching on this topic, please contact me at

Proposal Mindset© JBL Strategies 2022-2023
Posted in Behavior change, Discussion, Leadership, Nonprofit Leadership, proposal mindset, strategic thinking.