My experience coaching executives as well as my own career journey have convinced me that one of the biggest challenges facing leaders in business today is decision-making. Bombarded with the pressure to make decisions quickly and wisely, leaders often seek the counsel of trusted colleagues. Yet, the greatest resource for making sound decisions lies within us; our intuition.
We are instructed to leave our emotions at home. There’s no room for “feelings” in decision-making and business, but at the end of the day when we’ve reviewed the data over and over again and have asked others for their opinions, it’s our gut that is our best counsel.
Learning to trust our intuition when we’ve been educated to rely on data, and tuning out the distractions that prevent us from connecting with our “inner knowing” does not come easily for most of us.
I asked Shelley Row, PE MBA, author of Think Less Live More: Lessons from a Recovering Over-Thinker, to help us understand how to tap into our intuition for decision-making.
What is the biggest challenge leaders face in decision-making?
In talking with leaders and in my own experience, there are two related issues that are challenging for decision-makers. The first is the level of complexity in the environment today. Particularly for leaders in fast-changing industries or in quickly evolving markets where decisions have many interrelated parts. Highly complex situations do not lend themselves to cognitive processing alone. Research in neuroscience tells us that the amount of storage in working memory is limited. We need input from all parts of the brain to manage highly complex decisions. The second issue is determining when is enough, enough. Leaders gather data and seek input but at some point, they reach the over-thinking tipping point. That’s the point where the time needed to gather more data and input exceeds the value. They must decide and move on. One leader, when faced with a big decision asks himself, “Is it soup yet?” He means, does he have all the information he can reasonable capture in the timeframe available. The over-thinking tipping point is not a calculated point in time, rather it is a sense that to wait longer is counterproductive.
How important is intuition for decisions?
It depends on the decision. There are two types of decisions that are not dependent on intuition. One type are decisions where the data is known and options can be calculated or estimated. The other are decisions with a long track record of experience behind them; however, if the future is different from the past, even this type of decision may require more than just experience and fact. Intuition plays an essential role for decision-making in rapidly changing environments; if there are contradictions in the data; ambiguity due to lack of data; or decisions that center on people (hiring, firing, or political decisions). Ironically, the fact is that for some decisions, data alone isn’t enough. I interviewed leaders from a range of backgrounds. Leaders trained as engineers and lawyers tended to be analytical but, as they moved into leadership positions where there is more ambiguity, they learned to also trust their gut. On the opposite end of the spectrum, were political leaders and entrepreneurs. They work in highly complex environments for which there is little data. These leaders relied extensively on the wisdom from their experience and their intuition. It is important to point out that none of these leaders rely just on gut feel. They use all the data at their disposal, input from a wide range of sources and they listen to the voice inside their head. It is the combination of cognition and intuition that is powerful. Unfortunately, there is not a word that combines the two so I made one up – Infotuition.
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