Priya Kartik is an executive coach and leadership expert with decades of experience enhancing the success factor of teams and organizations.
Starting the clock on a critical project. Approving a controversial business proposal. Hiring a candidate with unorthodox credentials. In the high-stakes game of executive leadership, every decision is a fulcrum on which your company's future may tilt. But what happens when that decision is impulsive rather than calculated?
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Why Executives Make Impulsive Decisions
The modern corporate landscape is fast-paced and constantly evolving. Executives, who are expected to be agile and efficient, often face several challenges that lead them to make impulsive decisions. However, succumbing to impulsivity can lead to dire consequences—misjudged situations, overlooked opportunities or poorly allocated resources. What makes executives bypass comprehensive analysis and rely on impulsivity? Three of the most common reasons include:
In a dynamic business environment, executives often face stringent deadlines and the pressure to deliver results quickly. Research reveals that time pressure can significantly impair decision quality. Moreover, the desire to be seen as decisive and to respond rapidly to emerging challenges can sometimes overshadow the need for careful consideration.
The digital age has brought forth a deluge of information. Executives have access to more data than ever before, which can be both a boon and a bane. While data-driven decisions are essential, sifting through an avalanche of information can be overwhelming. Consequently, the sheer volume of data can lead to analysis paralysis, where the executive becomes unable to make any decision. A study highlighted how information overload could impair attention and decision quality and lead to hurried choices.
Fear Of Missing Out On Opportunities (FOMO)
Another driving force behind impulsive decision-making is the fear of missing out on potential opportunities. The fast-paced business world creates a perception that opportunities are fleeting and that delays might result in lost prospects. This fear is often exacerbated by seeing competitors rapidly seize opportunities. FOMO can cause executives to jump into decisions without a thorough understanding of the risks and implications.
Step Away From The Edge: How To Avoid Impulsive Decisions
Being aware of the pitfalls of time pressures, information overload and FOMO can help you make a conscious effort to balance the need for swift action with thoughtful deliberation. Additionally, the following actionable tips can help you steer clear of impulsive decisions.
Engage With A Devil’s Advocate
Effective decisions call for high-quality discussions and debate. By embracing contrary perspectives, you can uncover hidden biases, explore unseen opportunities and devise more comprehensive strategies. This approach is particularly important during high-impact decisions.
At Amazon, executives are encouraged to practice the "disagree and commit" principle, where team members voice their disagreements openly. This helps bring about a broader range of perspectives and challenge biases. For example, when facing a tough career decision, such as taking a new role, reaching out to your mentors or trustworthy peers who can deliberately challenge your opinions or plans can be an incredibly effective strategy to step away from impulsivity and refine your decision-making.
Adopt Decision-Making Frameworks
Applying structured decision-making frameworks encourages a systematic approach to decision-making, avoiding impulsive reactions. In their book The New Rational Manager, Charles Kepner and Benjamin Tregoe mention that decision-making frameworks can improve decision-making accuracy. I recall hearing that Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, uses the NDR (no doubt rule), which states that if you have any doubt about a decision, you should not make it.
Consider using a decision-making framework suitable for you to eliminate impulsiveness. A few popular decision-making frameworks include the Eisenhower matrix, the pros and cons list, the 1-2-3-4-5 decision matrix, the weighted decision matrix, etc.
Practicing mindfulness is an effective strategy for keeping impulsivity in check. Research shows that even brief mindfulness can reduce impulsive behavior. For instance, Arianna Huffington, the co-founder of the Huffington Post, introduced mindfulness and meditation into her routine after collapsing from exhaustion. This resulted in more balanced decisions.
Another study found that practicing mindfulness, even for short periods, can improve attention and decision-making skills. Take a "mindful minute" before meetings to ground yourself. This entails observing a minute of silence, focusing on breathing and then thinking about the purpose of the meeting. By doing this, you move from a reactive state to a more thoughtful, proactive state.
Decisions shape the landscape of our personal and professional lives. By harnessing these strategies, the benefits are twofold; not only can they help you avoid impulsive decisions, but they can also render your decision-making process more robust and agile. On the chessboard of leadership, it’s not the rapidity but the insightfulness of your moves that crown you a winner.