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Sunday, 27 October 2019

Unsure, Uncertain, Can't Decide? Trust Your Memory Bank and Make a Decision!

Some years ago I went to see one of my clients for his regular one-to-one mentoring session.  He greeted me with a rather gloomy look and the odd sigh.

I took the hint and asked him what appeared to be the problem.

He said: "I am beginning to have certainties"

Knowing him to be a very collaborative and inclusive leader I could see how this would affect him.

He was anything but proscriptive (except on very rare occasions) so to have certainties implied, to him, that he was having doubts about his leadership style.

We talked it through in a lot of detail and he began to accept that there is nothing wrong in being certain of a solution in a situation.  In fact that is the precursor to a quick decision in many cases.

Even in major events the leader's responsibility is to come to a decision and if this is his/her own decision rather than one tested with others then so be it.

Time may be of the essence and a lengthy discussion with others could well pose a problem, so, yes, go ahead, make a decision based on your certainty and live with the result.

It's all a matter of balance in dealing with situations. Some need a deal of thought and some can be disposed of more quickly and effectively.  There is no right or wrong in these matters.

On the other hand, the far more difficult part of the leader's role is dealing with uncertainty.

However we define it, it can be the "we know what we don't know" problem and in that case a certainty can be exactly the wrong approach.

Being a recanted engineer my own default position is always to gather as much information as possible. That gives me a feeling of comfort that I have begun to make inroads into the "don't know" scenario.

However I also recall another of my clients who constantly complained that his Number Two, an engineer, always achieved paralysis by analysis.

The fact was that in his eyes, you could never have enough information with the consequence that he was constantly researching and seldom came to a satisfactory conclusion.

It's an attitude that can be compared to the accountant who is firmly against estimated figures and tries to produce monthly management accounts accurate to the nearest penny.

Pointless and unnecessary but it does happen even if the management accounts are six weeks late because “he didn't have all the invoices in”.

There comes a time in the life of every leader when an uncertainty pops up and the only thing to do is make a decision on what is cheerfully termed "gut instinct".

No such thing of course.  I certainly wouldn't trust my guts to make a sensible decision.

Gut instinct is a synonym for expertise based on experience and there is nothing wrong in trusting it from time to time.

A problem arises and it is something that is out of the ordinary.  However the odds are that there will be something in the situation, a felling of familiarity perhaps, that leads one to search through the database we call the subconscious and latch on to a previous and similar occasion.

It isn't instinct. Fight, flight, freeze is instinctive and comes from deep inside the brain prompted by perceived danger.

Experience leads to expertise and the more we are able to recall from the memory bank, the more likely we are to draw on a past experience.  That leads to better decision-making.

And if we can't specifically match past experience with a current issue then still trust your feelings about it.  It isn't gut instinct. Past experience always colours the present and helps you come to a decision.

A bad decision is always better than no decision.

Take a look at The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters. It's a great and enlightening read.

Ivan J Goldberg
Author, professional writer, content producer and leadership specialist.      
Email me for a discussion via ivan.goldberg@maa-uk.co.uk

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