Leaders Need to Switch from Mind Full to Mindful Mode to Make Better Decisions
Despite their good intentions, leaders make mistakes. And, unfortunately, no matter how good the information, data, and analysis available, intelligent people sometimes make important decisions that are flawed, imperfect, and even occasionally unsound.
According to neuroscientists, leaders make decisions largely through unconscious processes called pattern recognition and emotional tagging. While these processes often formulate quick and effective decisions (particularly for routine and oft-repeated choices and determinations), there can be fallout when these methods are used for highly important decisions, especially when under stress or time pressures.
Pattern recognition and emotional tagging warp the decision-making process through self-interest, emotional attachment, unconscious biases, or misleading memories. The result: errors of judgment leading to flawed, specious, and mistaken decisions that often produce unintended consequences and generally fail to produce expected outcomes.
Our brains use two hardwired processes for decision making. First, the brain uses pattern recognition to assess a situation or the information available concerning a situation or problem that needs resolving. Then, based on the emotional associations (or tags) attached to any recognizable patterns, the brain helps us determine how to react (or ignore) what it has assessed.
This process of pattern recognition uses up to 30 different parts and regions of the brain to integrate and handle information. When faced with a new situation — either an event or a new problem to solve — pattern recognition helps us make assumptions and decisions based on prior experiences and judgments.
Additionally, the brain uses the process of emotional tagging to helps us determine whether or not to pay attention to something or someone. This process elicits and extracts any emotional information attached to the experiences and thoughts stored in our memories. This emotional information gives us clues on the type of actions we should be considering and contemplating. Unfortunately, when stress overloads and overburdens the regions of the brain responsible for controlling emotions and emotional reactions, the emotional tagging process is interfered with and inhibited.
When either of these two processes is impeded or obstructed, mind full leaders turn into slow and incompetent decision makers. The three main ways these processes are hindered and constrained are from:
- Inappropriate self-interest — which makes us more willing and likely to perceive the patterns we want to see.
- Distorting attachments — the bonds we form with people, places, and things can affect the judgments we form and the actions we are most likely to take.
- Misleading memories — which cause us to overlook or undervalue critical differentiating factors that make the current circumstances not as analogous, relevant, and comparable to previous situations as our memories are leading us to believe.
Based on the way our brains work using pattern recognition and emotional tagging processes, it is not easy for mind full leaders to spot and prevent themselves from making errors in judgment and poor decisions. Leaders need to switch from mind full to mindful mode in order to make better decisions — based on better thinking — that result in better outcomes.
This article is partially excerpted from my award-winning book Better Decisions Better Thinking Better Outcomes: How to go from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership, available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.