Decision-making Traps Great Leaders Know How to Sidestep

June 12, 2018

I often say, if I could only gift one habit to a would-be leader, career accelerator or high performer, it would be the decision-making habit.


The ability to move effortlessly through professional life making powerful decisions: quickly, confidently, competently and without regret.

We all know how distractingly frustrating it is to have our thoughts backed-up by an unmade decision; and how good it feels to take that decision and get back on plan. Yet still we hesitate, most often driven by fear – of making a mistake, of looking stupid, of missing out – and so the list goes on.

To help counter that hesitation, one observation I make of high-performing leaders is that they invariably have a strong decision-making routine they drop into to manage that hesitation, avoid the thinking traps and, ultimately, make a better (meaning: timely and more informed) decision.

The routines differ in their detail. But they commonly address two thinking traps of decision-making: blind spots; and ego.


Thinking Trap #1: Blind Spots

The decision-making thinking trap we could describe as ‘blind spots’ is not that we have blind spots. It’s the failure (stubbornness?) to acknowledge that we do.

On any given topic or circumstance, we all have blind spots. And to insist that “I have every conceivable perspective on this” is either arrogant, naïve or both. And dangerously so.

As much as we’d like to think otherwise, we cannot have every possible angle. So we’d do well to acknowledge that. And then work hard to bring blind spots into conscious awareness.


How to work on blind spots
  • Acknowledge you must have blind spots. This is always my starting point. If you can accept this, then you can be intentional uncovering them.
  • Have conversations. As widely as possible. Talk to those you would consider experts: in the topic or in the skill of decision-making. In particular, work with those who have conflicting views – both conflicting with you and with each other. Nothing more informative than listening to two opposing expert views duke it out.
  • Appreciate thoughtful disagreement. Your lower-brain might want to read ‘disagreement’ as ‘conflict’. But we need to show it (through practise) that disagreement need not be threat – and actually leads to learning and better decisions. Shift your association with ‘disagreement’ from ‘threat’ to ‘empowering’.
  • Be open to – and ok with – not knowing. When we get comfortable that no one can know everything, we find it that much easier to drop into open enquiry. How do we get comfortable: by getting clear on what we do know and what we are good at. The rest: be happy to reach-out to someone else for.
  • Watch for your own closed-mindedness. I can spot closed-mindedness in others easily, but struggle to do that for myself. We need to notice when we’re resistant to challenge and challengers, when we’re in a space of wanting to be understood rather than seeking to understand, when we’re uttering more statements than questions and when we’re lacking in humility. Those are the signs.


Thinking Trap #2: Ego

Human beings are highly social animals and our sense of safety, security and status are incredibly important emotional drivers for the brain. And so, our ego – concerned with the two preoccupations of looking good and being right – can strongly (and negatively) influence our decision-making.

Give your ego a persona and have that imagined character sit next to you. How do the two of you feel about: Seeking approval? Devaluing others to elevate self? Avoiding conflict? Making mistakes? Letting people down? Looking good? Being right? (We could add ‘at any cost’ to the ends of all those challenges.)

It’s revealing to disassociate ourselves from our ego and notice just how potentially negative the impact our egos can have on our decision-making.


So give yourself some go-to questions
  • Is this my ego talking, or me?
  • Which elements of this decision are ego-driven?
  • If I take my ego out of this, what’s the right decision?
  • Strengthen your relationship with your ego. Acknowledge it for keeping you safe and secure; but also challenge it as potentially unhelpful in the face of decisions. And come to learn that saying “that’s my ego talking” is itself a status-enhancing perspective.


The key ingredients to great decision-making

In order to be a great decision-maker, three ingredients are needed: a process towards knowing what the best decisions are; the courage and conviction to take those decisions; and the humility to learn from past decisions, both good and bad.

On your way to better decision-making, take time to reflect on how your blind spots and ego might be clouding things, and how the thoughts above might give you a process to better decisions.


The many benefits of assertiveness

Assertiveness is a necessary and hugely beneficial skill that enjoys the benefits both of non-assertion (e.g. fitting in, no feelings of guilt, no upsetting people) and of aggressiveness (e.g. high self-esteem, getting what you want, people no taking advantage), without the disadvantages of either.

Like any behaviour, it can be learned and developed. And is absolutely worth the investment.


SOURCE: Dan Beverly

Dan BeverlyDan Beverly is a leadership and performance coach, helping high-achieving professional women embrace the pivotal career moments.

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