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Can You Trust Your Gut Instinct?

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

Navigating Complex Decisions

Growing up, I loved the Rubik's Cube. In the beginning, it was challenging and took a lot of my attention. But as I practiced, the patterns and movements became almost symphonic. I enjoyed the sound of the clicking, and the feeling of satisfaction when I solved it.

Your job is like that too. The longer you work at it, the more you know the nuances of decision making and movements to get to the solution. It gets easier the more you do it.

Recently, leaders got a challenge no one was expecting. Covid protocols and business operation changes felt as if someone put two more rows in a Rubik’s Cube. Every plan, decision and action had more layers, and the solutions needed more attention because of the added variables.

We spoke to Deana Coppernoll, who is a Human Resources leader and specializes in leadership development and employee engagement. When asked if she felt leaders were showing any signs of decision fatigue, Coppernoll responded, “When Covid struck the business, it was still a business. It’s still complicated regardless of the decisions being made. But then you start to add the complexities of supplier constraints, economic conditions or things that were there, but now are amplified. So instead of your equation being that nice A + B = C, now you have A squared to the square root of X.”

The New Learning Mode for Leaders

Leadership has undergone an importance and complexity amplification, driven by the cultural change as people work from home. We’ve been rapidly moving between conscious competence and conscious incompetence at an unfamiliar and, often, uncomfortable pace. In our current conditions, we encounter more situations where we have a skill deficit and recognize the need to learn.

This conscious incompetence allows us to then move back to conscious competence — to move back into a feeling where we know we have the skills to do the work.

Intuitive Decision Making

In the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, he references the difference between cognitive ease and cognitive strain. When we are experiencing cognitive ease, we are in a good mood and can generate more activity. Cognitive ease gives us a sense of familiarity and the perception that tasks are effortless.

On the other hand, cognitive strain causes us to complete tasks more slowly and with more effort. Working in this condition can be tiring and draining because of the required analysis and reflection. Kahneman tells us that only following our first impression or experience can be wrong the majority of the time. When leaders reflect on past decisions, many would say they didn’t take enough time to assess the root problem and consider several options. There are situations where slowing down will lead to speeding up. Making a decision and being able to generate stable outcomes means embracing cognitive strain.

As you’re reading this, which cognitive state can you relate to? Many leaders we’re working with are seeking cognitive ease, but their best work will come from embracing cognitive strain. If leaders aren’t uncomfortable, they are likely not achieving their highest potential.

So how do you do that?

Deana Coppernoll suggests leaders ask more questions before making decisions. For instance, "Am I asking every question that needs to be answered? Am I going to the right people for the right answers? Are we looking at this with the right perspective?” She continues, “We’ve found that the human condition is amplified because of that.”

Intentional and Intuitive Leadership

As the world focuses on recovery, there are high expectations and many opportunities. So look at your dependence on intuition. Do a gut check on your relationship with your reliance on intuition. Your intuition is a comfortable capability that makes you feel effective in a fast-paced work environment. What modifications are you intentionally making to your leadership toolbox?

While you may feel like you don’t have time to slow down, investing in planning your intentional leadership will improve your effectiveness over the long term. Read on to learn our steps for a System for Success. Consider working through them. Pause to be intentional. Confirm where you comfortably use what you know well. Be intentional about areas you can develop new capabilities.

Below is the System for Success framework we use with our clients.

• A Vision: Refresh your personal and professional 10-year vision.

- Plan whitespace to access your dreams and ambitions.

• A Destination: Get clear on your strategy, goals and leadership brand.

- Write a success plan. Start with the end in mind: the goals.

“A vision or plan without goals remain just that.”

• An action plan: Consider how you prioritize planning around:

- Time Management: Taming your busy world

- Leveraging a Team: Build a high-performance team

- Professional Development: An investment strategy of you

• Measurement: Create qualitative and quantitative measures of success.

• Evaluation: Check and re-check with self-assessment and feedback, formal and informal.

Investing in Yourself

Investing in yourself is not selfish. Leadership effectiveness happens from the inside out. For your team to succeed, you must be successful.

Ask yourself the important question: Am I investing in myself enough?

Your leadership brand is an asset that you’ll want to leverage for a career that spans 40+ years. Your brand is a highly valuable asset that needs investment, especially in today’s business climate. If you need help putting order to your options and focus, our Pivotal Leadership Diagnostic and 1:1 Executive Coaching are an effective tool to accelerate your self-assessment and build the right action plan.


Lisa W. Haydon is a business leader and entrepreneur with over 30 years of operational experience leading teams in banking, capital markets, technology and professional services.

Lisa’s instinct for sorting through business complexities, understanding distinctive leader personalities, and realizing results compelled her to leave a corporate career and become an entrepreneur. Her company, Pivotal Growth, introduced a technology tool for leadership development assessment and planning. The suite of tools offers diagnostic capabilities to synthesize and accelerate people performance.

Lisa’s skills and the Pivotal Growth product help companies enhance their performance and support leaders achieving greater confidence and success.

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