The more stressful the situation, the more leaders need to explore a wide range of options and potential solutions. Unfortunately, stress often prevents this.
As I wrote in the previous blog on How Stress Impacts Decision Making By Leaders, when under stress people are more likely to make intuitive and quick decisions, without really thinking through the problem or task. This is because our brains are wired to be reactionary, not analytical, under stress.
Additionally, a common propensity under stress is to resort to decision making based on binary choices. Thus, people under stress tend to limit the options available to them to just two alternatives, usually in an attempt to arrive at a faster decision. Unfortunately, this not only prevents more and often better options to be considered, this can also result in premature conclusions based on only a subset of all available facts and information.
Most of us fall somewhere in between the two extremes of the “just trust your gut” decision maker and the “paralysis by analysis” let’s analyze everything again and again decision maker. In fact, most of us move along this continuum fairly easily, depending on the difficulty and perceived risks of a particular decision.
However, it is important to know ourselves, our preferences, and our default mode when it comes to decision making. This is because, when under stress, we are most likely to fall into our default mode and preferred decision-making style, no matter how easy or difficult a decision may be. This is why stress causes some leaders to freeze and incapacitates their decision-making capabilities, even for the easiest and most routine of decisions.
As mentioned in February in the blog post titled Why Mind Full Leaders Are Slow and Incompetent Decision Makers, we rely on a pair of hardwired processes for decision making. Using pattern recognition our brains assess what appears to be going on. We then react to this information, or ignore it, due to the emotional tags stored in our memories. While normally highly reliable, these two processes can and do let us down, particularly in times of stress or tiredness.
Usually, the more stressful the circumstances being faced are, the more a leader needs to explore a wide range of options and potential solutions. Unfortunately, while relying on past experiences may create a false sense of comfort and confidence, limiting one’s options is more often than not a recipe for disaster and poor decision making.
This is why we counsel leaders to learn to respond to situations, people, and events rather than react to them. Leaders need to be first responders, not first reactors by pausing, listening, and becoming more mindful and present whenever decisions need to be made.
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. The book is the recipient of a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association for bringing “a comprehensive plan of action for improving life through recognizing decision-making patterns that don’t serve us well, don’t enrich our lives, and don’t bring us to our goals and dreams.”