As a leader, you have accumulated professional and personal experiences that influence how you respond to different situations. From a cognitive perspective, these mental concepts create your internal rule book. It is the brain’s way of managing hundreds of decisions each day. Although, in today’s continually changing business environment is your past experience a liability, especially when making strategic decisions? A liability because your competitive advantage is increasingly unlikely to come from past events. So, considering this cognitive challenge, how do you make sure your experience is working for you and not against you?
Know your triggers and blind spots
The most important responsibility of any leader is to develop self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to monitor our thoughts and feelings and to understand how they impact our performance and interactions with other people. How does this relate to you making more informed decisions? In today’s competitive culture, you may feel pressured to have all the answers. And not feeling equipped with the answers may trigger defensiveness and create resistance to seek out or consider alternative perspectives. It is only by being aware of these triggers that you can take responsibility for what you do and don’t know, in a way that benefits you and the organisation. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses influences your team’s trust in you and increase your credibility.
Be more conscious of strategic decisions, seeking out different perspectives
When making decisions, the brain first uses its working memory, and it compares incoming data to the information already stored. The process of analysing information takes a lot of energy. So, when we make decisions, we use the information that is readily available. We evaluate and resolve problems in a way that is consistent with how we perceive them. The bad news is you cannot eliminate bias, but you can more consciously anticipate situations where bias may unduly influence your decision making. Mindfulness helps to aid this process. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. Being more conscious of our decision making also means thinking more strategically about when to bring people with different thinking styles and experiences into the process. Designing processes that challenge bias, and involving people who prioritise cognitive effort over gut instinct.
Build effective decision-making teams
Research indicates that involving people from varying backgrounds and perspectives leads to better decisions. Although, benefiting from diverse perspectives requires an environment where people feel secure to ask questions. In groups, people can fear conflict and possible retribution if they don’t understand the rules. Google commissioned a study that highlighted how creating psychological safety was the most valuable dynamic in the effectiveness of a team. Organisational behavioural scientist Amy Edmondson defines psychological safety as a shared belief held by individuals that their team is a safe space for taking interpersonal risks. She offers ways to foster psychological safety including framing the task as a learning problem, getting leaders to acknowledge their shortcomings, and demonstrate curiosity by asking lots of questions.
Your role as the leader
As a leader, your role is to consciously separate transactional and strategic decision making. In doing so, recognise the cognitive limitations of yourself and the team involved in the process. Taking the opportunity to include people with different thinking styles and those with a preference for cognitive over more instinctive decision making. And most crucially, remaining open, curious and questioning all assumptions. Especially your own.