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Lead Better by Seeing More

In this over-information age, an alarming number of business plans fail because leaders ignore the facts needed to make sound decisions. Misguided perspectives can be blamed on a lack of data, wrong data or the inability to understand relevance. Even in hindsight, some leaders fail to see what went wrong.

A fast-paced culture requires precise planning, effective decisions and timely actions, all relying on dependable information. Leaders who want to move their organizations forward must gather evidence, ask the right questions, verify presumed facts and decipher vast amounts of data.

Business plans suffer when:

  • Leaders ignore available information.
  • Necessary data aren’t acquired in time to make decisions.
  • Data are available, but leaders fail to analyze them appropriately.
  • Leaders may choose to overlook key details.

Two Types of Thinking

Of all the skills leaders require today, perhaps none is as challenging as adequately processing information. The ability to spot holes in data, conceive solutions and analyze results calls for sharp thinking.

Thinking can be broken down into two primary categories, suggests Harvard Business School Professor Max H. Bazerman, PhD, in The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See (Simon & Schuster, 2015): intuitive and deliberative.

We employ intuitive thinking during crises, when immediacy is required. Our thinking is instantaneous, with emotion as a factor, and it produces reactionary responses. Sudden information is generally incomplete, incorporating whatever is available at the moment.

By contrast, leaders sift through information, take time to gather data and draw conclusions when employing deliberative thinking. Such thinking is reasoned and structured, diving deep into the issues at hand. We gather data from non-immediate sources, compiling and assessing it to make a more systematic evaluation.

Leaders frequently—and unnecessarily—put themselves in the intuitive-thinking mode, Dr. Bazerman asserts. They over-rely on speed, neglecting to step back and analyze data. Consequently, they avoid doing sufficient research and make ill-informed decisions and plans.

Leaders fail to use information efficiently in three distinct ways, each with a specific cause and solution.

  1. Missing What’s in Front of You

Bombarded with more information than they can effectively process, leaders can miss things that are “hidden in plain sight.” Information overload causes important facts to be overlooked. In the fallout, outsiders critique these oversights and question leaders’ abilities.

When we consistently miss readily available stimuli we have “bounded awareness.” Our desired goal becomes our overwhelming mission, despite realities that can upend the best-laid plans. When leaders are so caught up in one situational aspect, they fail to observe another, leading to dire problems.

Leaders can overcome bounded awareness by broadening their perspectives and thinking beyond their typical frame of reference. Careful consideration of issues and a more diverse, cross-functional team is paramount. Leaders make better decisions when their teams answer critical questions:

  • What type of information is appropriate, and which should be discarded?
  • Do we have all the data we need?
  • If not, where do we access more information?
  • How accurate are the data we have?
  • Have we examined all the issues at play?
  • Is there anything we haven’t considered?

Motivated blindness alters reality to make us see what we want to see (and miss the details we’d rather ignore). To preserve self-esteem, a leader may have a self-serving bias, which causes a false sense of reality. The status quo seems rosy, and problems go unnoticed.

Leaders can counteract a self-serving bias by seeing things from others’ perspectives to broaden their views and ensure decisions benefit others first (i.e., how can I best help my people?).

With too narrow a focus, leaders limit their observations to major issues and ignore the minor, yet nonetheless important, ones. Equally problematic is a preoccupation with one specific matter that pulls focus from the big picture.

Leaders can defeat this inattentional blindness by stepping back from a situation and deliberately examining secondary and tertiary issues. The most effective solutions are achievable only when problems are attacked holistically, not as a series of disconnected parts.

  1. Ignoring What’s Hidden from View

Understandably, information outside the forefront is harder to observe, but it may be the most critical to obtain. Immediate thinking, where intuition and emotion dominate, often prevents leaders from considering hidden information. Some leaders believe that if they cover the obvious items, most issues will be under control. This dangerous mindset regards small details as non-critical and not worthy of inspection.

Gradual-change blindness also causes leaders to miss information. When a series of small changes occur, they may be subtle and, on their own, go unrecognized. But their collective effect is dramatic, and leaders may be lulled into thinking that nothing is really happening as gradual shifts play out. Leaders realize something’s wrong only when it’s too late.

Leaders can prevent gradual-change blindness with a timeline view of recent progress. Seek help from those with personal knowledge who can clearly and objectively present the facts. Take regular snapshots of how a situation develops to avoid surprises and reduce risks.

  1. Not Wanting to See the Truth

Pride impacts perception and taken to an extreme, a prideful bias becomes a conflict of interest. Leaders make decisions to benefit themselves, either directly or indirectly, at the expense of colleagues or the organization itself. This behavior is typically rooted in fear of failure.

Leaders who request assistance from a reliable colleague, mentor or executive coach will minimize prideful bias, Dr. Bazerman suggests. Feedback from someone who monitors your style and behaviors allows you to recognize prideful tendencies and minimize the roadblocks they cause in your decision-making.

Better observation skills lead to improved insights, decisions and results. You have only one opportunity to get something right the first time. Make it happen by seeing as much as you can.

Dr. Maynard Brusman

Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor

Professional Certified Coach (PCC), International Coach Federation

Board Certified Coach (BCC)


Our services:

  • Executive Coaching
  • Mindful Leadership
  • Neuroscience - Conversational Intelligence (CI-Q)
  • Attorney and Accountant Coaching
  • Emotional Intelligence & Mindful Leadership Workshops

For more information, please go to http://www.workingresources.com, write to mbrusman@workingresources.com, or call 415-546-1252

55 New Montgomery St., Suite 505
San Francisco, California 94105

 

 

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Lead Better by Seeing More

In this over-information age, an alarming number of business plans fail because leaders ignore the facts needed to make sound decisions. Misguided perspectives can be blamed on a lack of data, wrong data or the inability to understand relevance. Even in hindsight, some leaders fail to see what went wrong.

A fast-paced culture requires precise planning, effective decisions and timely actions, all relying on dependable information. Leaders who want to move their organizations forward must gather evidence, ask the right questions, verify presumed facts and decipher vast amounts of data.

Business plans suffer when:

  • Leaders ignore available information.
  • Necessary data aren’t acquired in time to make decisions.
  • Data are available, but leaders fail to analyze them appropriately.
  • Leaders may choose to overlook key details.

Two Types of Thinking

Of all the skills leaders require today, perhaps none is as challenging as adequately processing information. The ability to spot holes in data, conceive solutions and analyze results calls for sharp thinking.

Thinking can be broken down into two primary categories, suggests Harvard Business School Professor Max H. Bazerman, PhD, in The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See (Simon & Schuster, 2015): intuitive and deliberative.

We employ intuitive thinking during crises, when immediacy is required. Our thinking is instantaneous, with emotion as a factor, and it produces reactionary responses. We make use of immediate information, or that which initially impacts our senses. Sudden information is generally incomplete, incorporating whatever is available at the moment.

By contrast, leaders sift through information, take time to gather data and draw conclusions when employing deliberative thinking. Such thinking is reasoned and structured, diving deep into the issues at hand. We gather data from non-immediate sources, compiling and assessing it to make a more systematic evaluation.

Leaders frequently—and unnecessarily—put themselves in the intuitive-thinking mode, Dr. Bazerman asserts. They over-rely on speed, neglecting to step back and analyze data. Consequently, they avoid doing sufficient research and make ill-informed decisions and plans.

Leaders fail to use information efficiently in three distinct ways, each with a specific cause and solution.

  1. Missing What’s in Front of You

Bombarded with more information than they can effectively process, leaders can miss things that are “hidden in plain sight.” Information overload causes important facts to be overlooked. Leaders commonly bemoan how something so obvious wasn’t caught. In the fallout, outsiders critique these oversights and question leaders’ abilities.

During the mortgage lending frenzy of the mid-2000s, for example, financial institutions and regulatory agencies were drowning in their efforts to track interest rates, loan traffic, the housing boom and profits. Lost in this ocean was the higher percentage of risky loans being made to fuel the euphoria. Telltale data were completely available, revealing the risk of loan defaults. No one thought to investigate this critical aspect of the lending environment.

Dr. Bazerman and a New York University colleague coined the term “bounded awareness” to describe how we consistently miss readily available stimuli. Our desired goal becomes our overwhelming mission, despite realities that can upend the best-laid plans. When leaders are so caught up in one situational aspect, they fail to observe another, leading to dire problems. Think of the manufacturer who’s so obsessed with delivery deadlines that he overlooks reports of quality problems.

Leaders can overcome bounded awareness by broadening their perspectives and thinking beyond their typical frame of reference. Careful consideration of issues always trumps a cursory glance. Bringing in a more diverse, cross-functional team is paramount. Leaders make better decisions when their teams answer critical questions:

  • What type of information is appropriate, and which should be discarded?
  • Do we have all the data we need?
  • If not, where do we access more information?
  • How accurate are the data we have?
  • Have we examined all the issues at play?
  • Is there anything we haven’t considered?

If leaders have a vested self-interest, they may skew information to support their emotional position. Such motivated blindness alters reality to make us see what we want to see (and miss the details we’d rather ignore). A retail-chain founder may believe in his brand and company legacy so passionately that he fails to notice its outdated sales approach, which is turning customers toward more progressive competitors.

To preserve self-esteem, a leader may have a self-serving bias, which causes a false sense of reality. The status quo seems rosy, and problems go unnoticed. These leaders often wonder why those around them seem troubled and continuously point out problems.

Leaders can counteract a self-serving bias by seeking guidance from a trusted colleague, mentor or professional coach. Work on seeing things from others’ perspectives to broaden your views and ensure decisions benefit others first (i.e., how can I best help my people?).

Leaders with too narrow a focus limit their observations to major issues and ignore the minor, yet nonetheless important, ones. Equally problematic is a preoccupation with one specific matter that pulls focus from the big picture. This inattentional blindness often plagues leaders and is caused by distractedness.

Leaders can defeat inattentional blindness if they learn to step back from a situation and deliberately examine secondary and tertiary issues. Know that the most effective solutions are achievable only when problems are attacked holistically, not as a series of disconnected parts.

  1. Ignoring What’s Hidden from View

Understandably, information outside the forefront is harder to observe, but it may be the most critical to obtain. Details not initially obvious often have the greatest impact, and their elusiveness causes leaders to underestimate them.

Immediate thinking, where intuition and emotion dominate, often prevents leaders from considering hidden information. Some leaders believe that if they cover the obvious items, most issues will be under control. This dangerous mindset regards small details as non-critical and not worthy of inspection.

Consider the leader of an electronics firm who cuts costs and introduces a cheaper version of a product his competitors provide. His company makes significant investments in design, retooling and advertising. Unfortunately, he ignored known R&D research that would have alerted him to new technology that will render his product obsolete.

Gradual-change blindness also causes leaders to miss information. When a series of small changes occur, they may be subtle and, on their own, go unrecognized. But their collective effect is dramatic, and leaders may be lulled into thinking that nothing is really happening as gradual shifts play out. Leaders realize something’s wrong only when it’s too late.

Remember the tale of the frog placed into a pot of cold water on the stove? When the burner is lit, the water heats gradually, but the frog doesn’t notice. When the water reaches a boiling point, it’s too late: The frog is cooked. Had the frog been immediately subjected to boiling water, he would have jumped out of the pot.

Like the frog, people tend to overlook minor changes. An engineering leader, for example, may not observe his team’s attempts to streamline proven product-testing processes. A series of minor concessions may go unnoticed until the final product displays major deficiencies. By then, it’s too late to make reasonable corrections; the project has failed.

Leaders can prevent gradual-change blindness with a timeline view of recent progress. Seek help from those with personal knowledge who can clearly and objectively present the facts. Take regular snapshots of how a situation develops to avoid surprises and reduce risks.

  1. Not Wanting to See the Truth

Oversights caused by ineffective thinking seem innocent and unintentional. However, those caused by self-serving motives deservedly draw more criticism. Emotional blind spots are problematic, but rejecting unfavorable data is inexcusable.

Some leaders believe everything must go their way, with a predetermined outcome in mind. They include only the information that supports their position and overlook anything to the contrary.

Pride also impacts perception. Some leaders think they have nothing left to learn. Additional information isn’t required because they know it all and are convinced they’re right. Overconfidence or conceit ruins their judgment.

A seasoned sales director, for example, may push aside the latest customer price target information, boasting of his successful track record. He insists his charm and negotiating skills will close the deal. Unfortunately, all the good-ol’ boys are gone, and his customers are now sharp, methodical number crunchers who can outthink him.

Taken to an extreme, a prideful bias becomes a conflict of interest. Leaders make decisions to benefit themselves, either directly or indirectly, at the expense of colleagues or the organization itself. This behavior is typically rooted in fear of failure.

Conflicted leaders are extremely difficult to work with. The challenge increases with leaders who refuse to admit mistakes and intentionally disregard data that damage their position or self-esteem. Leaders most interested in saving face cause catastrophic problems: failed projects, staff resentment and disengagement, and declining team performance.

Some CEOs are known for inflating their reputations by acknowledging only positive achievements as they prepare to face their board of directors. Information that disfavors their leadership is cast aside.

Leaders who request assistance from a reliable colleague, mentor or executive coach will minimize prideful bias, Dr. Bazerman suggests. Feedback from someone who monitors your style and behaviors allows you to recognize prideful tendencies and minimize the roadblocks they cause in your decision-making.

Better observation skills lead to improved insights, decisions and results. You have only one opportunity to get something right the first time. Make it happen by seeing as much as you can.

Dr. Maynard Brusman

Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor

Professional Certified Coach (PCC), International Coach Federation
Board Certified Coach (BCC)


Our services:

  • Executive Coaching
  • Mindful Leadership
  • Neuroscience - Conversational Intelligence (CI-Q)
  • Attorney and Accountant Coaching
  • Emotional Intelligence & Mindful Leadership Workshops

For more information, please go to http://www.workingresources.com, write to mbrusman@workingresources.com, or call 415-546-1252

55 New Montgomery St., Suite 505
San Francisco, California 94105

 

 

 

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A Complex Mindset                                                                    

When we work for problem solvers, our survival depends on understanding how they think and feel.

Troubleshooters feel threatened when things go wrong and problems have no readily apparent solutions. They fear their analytical skills—and, by extension, they themselves—are inadequate. A loss of control over circumstances adds hopelessness to the mix.

Many problem solvers deal with their insecurities by fixing things and bringing order to their world. Their mindset is fairly concrete: Everything needs to be fixed. Trouble lurks around every corner and must be snuffed out. These leaders have an innate protection mode.

Problem solvers rarely recognize their fears or desperate need to feel safe, but they’re keenly aware of their preparedness. They’re always ready to dissect problems methodically. They pride themselves on their diligence.

Troubleshooting leaders are often the odd one out, taking a minority view. They notice how few of their colleagues grasp their insights, which empowers them. Their research often leads to predictions, which take the form of warnings to heed their advice. Setting themselves apart from others affirms their belief that their contributions are important.

Problem solvers revel in hard data. They dismiss others’ intuition as inferior to facts. Gut feelings are deemed inappropriate and risky. They require a high level of certainty. But when data are hard to obtain or seem misleading, these leaders struggle to make decisions. Pulling the trigger without enough assurance seems riskier than doing nothing. Appealing to their common sense proves fruitless.

Over-analysis is never a problem for obsessive troubleshooters—the more, the better. Extended analysis may uncover other problems—an effective bonus in the war against trouble. Discovering hidden problems is a delightful find for them, akin to uncovering a treasure no one else has spotted.

Problem solvers have trouble taking criticism, which they view as a roadblock to progress or a detriment to morale. But they often accept it as the price to pay for fulfilling their role as protector of the people. Criticism would be far worse if their careful analysis failed to catch problems.

When working with problem solvers, try to understand their perspective and appreciate their gifts of discernment and analysis. Know that they don’t intentionally bog things down with their hyper-focus. Their goals are honorable, though they may pursue them in disruptive ways.

 

Problem-solving leaders must find an effective balance between their analytical skills and everyday time constraints by allowing others to help them. With a healthier mindset, free from fear and anxiety, they can manage problems constructively and unify people, without frustrating or discouraging them.

Dr. Maynard Brusman

Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor

Professional Certified Coach (PCC), International Coach Federation

Board Certified Coach (BCC)


Our services:

  • Executive Coaching
  • Mindful Leadership
  • Neuroscience - Conversational Intelligence (CI-Q)
  • Attorney and Accountant Coaching
  • Emotional Intelligence & Mindful Leadership Workshops

For more information, please go to http://www.workingresources.com, write to mbrusman@workingresources.com, or call 415-546-1252

55 New Montgomery St., Suite 505
San Francisco, California 94105

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The Problem with Problem-Solving Leaders

Many employees long for leaders who can solve workplace problems—from flawed systems and procedures to inconsistent policies and managers. They want their leaders to see through the trees and attack forest-sized issues, with the discernment and authority to fix them one by one.

While this sounds great on the surface, employees who report to problem-solving leaders cite challenges that dwarf the problems themselves. Organizations typically benefit from resolved difficulties, but unsound methods or mindsets can exacerbate even the most mundane issues.

Troubleshooting leaders often have skeptical views and have a hard time trusting the workplace culture. They equate run-of-the-mill difficulties with threats to themselves and their companies, prompting over-analysis in their quest to find ideal remedies. Their problem-solving attempts can stymie operations and push people beyond their breaking points. Qualified leadership coaches specialize in helping leaders overcome these tendencies and establish healthier approaches to troubleshooting.

Are You an Obsessive Problem Solver?

Problem solvers look at circumstances with a critical eye, never assuming systems work as well as they should. They’re motivated by risk mitigation and view problems in procedures or systems as weaknesses that jeopardize their future.

Setbacks or glitches are acute sources of personal pain, according to Dr. Beatrice Chestnut, author of The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century Workplace (Post Hill Press, 2017). Problem solvers persistently look for hazards and make every attempt to minimize, if not eliminate them to improve workplace conditions.

Mixed Outcomes

When obsessing, troubleshooting leaders disrupt the normal pace of business and frustrate their people. They:

  • Are deep thinkers who tend to perseverate over data, diverting their attention away from people and communication priorities.
  • View circumstances with skepticism and need assurances that systems and products are at optimum states, which can drag down those around them.
  • Taint their mindset by overstating negative and minimizing positive aspects, which leads to poor decisions.
  • Are easily paralyzed by analysis and avoid making decisions, thereby blocking progress.
  • Have little trust in processes and procedures, as well as those who adhere to them.
  • Wear people down with endless questions as they seek complete resolutions or fixes.
  • Tend to challenge authority by questioning their motives in supporting the status quo.
  • Can invent negative outcomes to affirm their discomfort with ideas or methods, creating greater challenges.
  • Lack flexibility and a willingness to accept new ideas.

At the same time, problem solvers have some positive traits that benefit their organizations. Leaders who focus on troubleshooting:

  • Are great lessons-learned resources, full of advice on how to avoid past mistakes.
  • Have excellent analytical and problem-spotting skills. They catch errors most people overlook, which reduces waste.
  • Are prepared and calm when trouble arises, as they planned for it.
  • Are unafraid to discuss the elephant in the room, tackling significant issues no one else wants to mention.
  • React honestly, without hedging, grandstanding or bragging.

Ideally, positive traits will outweigh their negative behaviors. Self-awareness can help problem-solving leaders minimize damage to their organizations.

Outward Signs

Adamant troubleshooters have a reputation for being great problem solvers and preventing crisis. As leaders, their effects on people are more prominent. Visibly satisfied by troubleshooting, they’re calmly, systematically and highly engaged in challenges, approaching the process with a self-appointed sense of duty and strings of questions, some of which seem irrelevant or exasperating.

To make their case, problem-solving leaders overstate consequences and minimize advantages, weakening their trustworthiness and credibility. Their critical perspective prevents them from making decisions, as their quest for ideal solutions is virtually unattainable.

Data-driven problem solvers value numbers over people. They’re resistant to intuition and gut feelings, searching for solutions that can be validated quantitatively. Progress is delayed when hard data are unavailable, which creates rifts with people whose experience and input should be valued and trusted.

A Complex Mindset                                                                    

When we work for problem solvers, our survival depends on understanding how they think and feel.

Troubleshooters feel threatened when problems have no readily apparent solutions. They fear their analytical skills—and, by extension, they themselves—are inadequate. A loss of control over circumstances adds hopelessness to the mix.

Many problem solvers deal with their insecurities by fixing things and creating order (everything must be fixed; trouble lurks around every corner.) They rarely recognize their fears or desperate need to feel safe, but they’re prepared and diligent.

Troubleshooting leaders are often the odd one out, taking a minority view. They are empowered by their research, insights, predictions and warnings, and dismiss others’ intuition as inferior to facts. But when data are hard to obtain or seem misleading, they struggle to make decisions. Instead, they will opt for extended analysis, which may uncover other problems.

Problem solvers have trouble taking criticism, which they view as a roadblock to progress, a detriment to morale, and the price to pay for fulfilling their role as protector of the people. It is not their intention to bog things down. Their goals are honorable, though they may pursue them in disruptive ways.

Minimizing Challenges

Problem-solving leaders needn’t forsake their analytical skills or interests, but they can certainly use them in more helpful ways:

  • Develop good personal relationships with peers and subordinates, thus ensuring greater trust in people, processes, practices and products. Rewarding relationships help dull fears of trouble and build greater confidence in well-managed systems.
  • Develop better people skills and recognize how others respond. Leaders can learn to present their ideas more effectively, with everyone’s best interests in mind, and work on accepting feedback and consensus.
  • See, admit and face fears. A coach will point out that searching for problems is a sign of anxiety or negative thinking. A leader’s confidence is the best weapon to override fears and build positivity.
  • Train your staff to tackle lesser problems, and delegate appropriately. Qualified employees with excellent judgment can lighten your load and any associated anxiety.

With a healthier mindset, free from fear and anxiety, problem-solving leaders can manage problems constructively and unify people, without frustrating or discouraging them.

Dr. Maynard Brusman

Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor

Professional Certified Coach (PCC), International Coach Federation

Board Certified Coach (BCC)


Our services:

  • Executive Coaching
  • Mindful Leadership
  • Neuroscience - Conversational Intelligence (CI-Q)
  • Attorney and Accountant Coaching
  • Emotional Intelligence & Mindful Leadership Workshops

For more information, please go to http://www.workingresources.com, write to mbrusman@workingresources.com, or call 415-546-1252

55 New Montgomery St., Suite 505
San Francisco, California 94105

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Better Leadership Decision-Making

An organization’s health is only as sound as its leader’s decisions. Some companies prosper from wise leadership directions, while others struggle after flawed choices—the kind that receive extra publicity because of the adverse impact on their organizations, people and communities.

The pressures and expectations that face leaders in today’s demanding climate may prompt a skewed, rushed or compromised decision process. But leaders who approach decisions with objective, rather than subjective, criteria can maximize their organizations’ potential.

Decision-Making Basics

Two fundamental forces determine our prosperity: decision quality and luck, asserts World Series of Poker champion Annie Duke in Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts (Penguin, 2018). Leaders instinctively (and rightly) dislike depending on luck and want their decisions to shape the future.

In our fast-paced world, important issues never become simpler, only more complex. You have less time to take each course of action and make each choice, with an ever-increasing impact on outcomes. Decisions that don’t go well are critiqued and analyzed. The need to make good decisions has never been more paramount—not just for leaders’ well-being, but for everyone under their authority.

People have two different modes of thought when a decision is required, and each has its place:

  1. An automatic mode, which is more reactive than responsive. It’s based on instinct and feelings when emergency situations can’t wait for much analysis.
  2. An analytic mode, which is more deliberate and methodical. It allows for (and requires) thorough evaluation of all options and outcomes.

A leader’s decision-making success hinges on resolving the balance between these two modes; react when necessary, but learn to shape your reactive thinking with analysis. Prioritize choices that benefit everyone.

Decision-making burdens many leaders because each choice rules out an alternative. This can cause hesitation or paralysis. Leaders are misled into thinking they can hold off making decisions without consequence. But making no decision is in itself a decision, with a separate set of consequences.

Uncertainty is another challenge for decision-makers. Conditions are constantly changing, and information may be incomplete. Experienced leaders know that even a wisely crafted decision, one made with full analysis and care, can go south. Yet, decisions must still be made, and leaders must be held accountable. It comes with the territory.

Decisions Roadblocks

Numerous innate traits inhibit our decision-making process. Executive coaches are trained to spot these human tendencies and help mitigate them to manageable levels:

  • Being overwhelmed by a situation’s complexity. The executive consulting firm McKinsey & Company describes this as anxiety, doubt and hesitation that can distort the thinking needed to make a wise decision. Everyone has a specific threshold for discomfort.
  • Associating a decision’s quality with its outcome. Duke calls this “hindsight bias,” which occurs when seemingly unassailable ideas fail after unforeseen factors take their toll.
  • Thinking irrationally. Leaders who struggle emotionally with failure often envision only positive outcomes. They often misunderstand causes and their effects, can’t spot some painful truths and avoid negative ideas.
  • Passing input through a subjective filter (bias). Leaders who rely on a slanted worldview, preconceived opinion or tainted by ingrained belief systems see and hear what they want to believe.
  • Dismissing others’ input. Prideful leaders avoid new thinking, sidestep risks, and cover mistakes to avoid appearing inferior or incompetent.  
  • Worrying about image. Fearful leaders prone to making decisions out of self-preservation, bypass what may best benefit the organization.

Decision-Making Solutions

Leaders can use three primary tactics to overcome decision-impairing roadblocks:

  1. Minimize the level of uncertainty.
  2. Raise their comfort level with unavoidable uncertainties (perhaps harder to adopt).
  3. Refine their thinking to process information better and draw reasonable conclusions.

Each strategy contributes to a sturdy foundation for making choices, pointing the way to higher levels of knowledge, improvement and expertise. Leaders can thereby bolster their confidence and heighten their ability to make better decisions.

Notice that the first tactic doesn’t focus on eliminating uncertainty. Virtually all decisions carry some degree of uncertainty. Minimizing uncertainty requires the most accurate information available. Leaders can turn unknowns into facts by asking questions and considering as many angles as possible. Thinking outside the norm helps identify obscure issues. Great leaders take advantage of an experienced team to address relevant issues.

Leaders who embrace the discomfort of uncertainty make the greatest strides in growth, both personally and professionally. Allow risks to sharpen your focus and determination. Ultimately, you have little control over certain circumstances, so some degree of uncertainty is acceptable. It doesn’t prevent you from making great decisions.

Duke suggests shifting your focus away from how much uncertainty you have to your degree of confidence. Make uncertainty a quantitative and objective analysis rather than an emotional concern. If you can estimate your confidence level, you can gauge where you stand and assess how much improvement you need to be comfortable making a decision. Gather pertinent facts to reduce uncertainty and make the wisest possible decision.

Clearer Thinking

Fact-finding and information management can be taxing, even to seasoned leaders. Emotions influence most thought processes, and leaders can be left with distorted impressions. McKinsey’s experts advise leaders to pause, take a step back and calm the mind. Approach thinking more rationally, and don’t allow anxiety to overrun reason.

Leaders who come to appreciate other perspectives solve problems most productively. Active listening skills are the best tool for engaging staff and enhancing rational thinking. Taking an objective approach, with input and choices, reduces emotional influence, bias, fear and rumors.

Clearer thinking also comes from lessons learned. Leaders who continue to learn, read, ask questions and research gain more real-life knowledge of how their world works. Ask friends and colleagues about their experiences and what they learned. These steps reduce misconceptions and clarify effective solutions.

Our culture draws a heavy line between right and wrong. Duke urges leaders to stop trying to be right. Good decisions can still go awry, and a poor outcome doesn’t mean a decision (or leader) was bad. There are too many factors at work behind the scenes, some of which are truly out of your control. Clearer thinking takes this into account and allows greater satisfaction in making the best possible decisions.

Leaders known for their good decisions employ the approaches discussed here, maximizing their certainty, clarifying their thinking and enhancing their confidence. Their decisions benefit their organizations, in lieu of themselves, and garner the respect and trust that seem to be sorely lacking today.

Dr. Maynard Brusman

Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor

Professional Certified Coach (PCC), International Coach Federation

Board Certified Coach (BCC)


Our services:

  • Executive Coaching
  • Mindful Leadership
  • Neuroscience - Conversational Intelligence (CI-Q)
  • Attorney and Accountant Coaching
  • Emotional Intelligence & Mindful Leadership Workshops

For more information, please go to https://www.workingresources.com, write to mbrusman@workingresources.com, or call 415-546-1252

55 New Montgomery St., Suite 505
San Francisco, California 94105

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