Why bad decisions happen – and what you can do about it
Events over the last few weeks have clearly demonstrated the huge impact of a leader’s decisions. The Chilcott report was a devastating indictment of the decision-making process which led to Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war, and David Cameron’s fore-shortened premiership was a direct outcome of his decision to launch the Brexit referendum. The situations are very different, but at their core reveal how hard it can be to think straight when the stakes are high.
Fortunately not many business leaders face choices of such gravity, but in the wake of Brexit the world feels different and many difficult decisions lie ahead. The daily political turmoil, contradictory but mainly pessimistic noises from business, and a general air of uncertainty seem to create a mental fog that makes it hard to know what direction to take.
Here are three principles that can help you make better decisions in this difficult environment
1. Open up your assumptions to challenge
Whilst conventional wisdom suggest that leaders ‘should’ be strong, confident and sure of their moral values, it’s far better to open up your core assumptions to constructive challenge. It’s dangerous to rely on any single perspective in today’s complex world.
Even today, Tony Blair retains a resolute certainty in his belief that he was acting for good reason. Perhaps a little self doubt would have helped?
2. Look for contradictory evidence
We have a natural bias to look for evidence that justifies the choice we want to take. Even stronger is the bias to seek evidence to justify what we have ALREADY done! It takes an active effort to seek out and acknowledge the contradictory evidence, and it’s all too easy to be ‘willfully blind’ to inconvenient truths.
The ‘sexing up’ of evidence supporting Iraq’s possession of chemical weapons.
3. Honestly understand your own motivation
Leaders feel pressure to appear morally sound and acting for the greater good. The sad reality is that a range of inner demons and fears also often drive leaders, just like the rest of us. A fear of looking weak, a fear of rejection, a fear of uncertainty to name a few. It takes bravery and self-awareness to uncover your real motivation, and while you may not choose to make it public, at least be honest about it to yourself.
David Cameron’s apparent need to reduce conflict in the Tory party as a motive for the EU referendum.
As executive coaches we work with our clients to apply these principles to tough leadership decisions. If you feel this would help you in the difficult times to come, get in touch.