I was recently reflecting on my leadership journey and a piece of advice that I was given by my manager when I was a brand-new leader in early childhood education twelve years ago.
It is advice that I am sure that many of you might have received during your own journey as a leader, “Take your team along with you for the journey”. Sounds simple enough, right? What many of us, and certainly I, didn’t realise at the time was that not only was I bringing my baggage along for the ride, but so was everyone else. I didn’t realise that part of my role was to help my team to manage their baggage and I hadn’t even started learning about how to manage my own.
During a workshop I attended I was asked, “did you plan your role, or did you land in your role?”
I recon that most of us land in it. We are good teachers with, great ideas, motivation, initiative and “leadership potential”. Someone “taps us on the shoulder” and says, “How would you like to be a head teacher?” We receive a rush of emotion and we usually feel extremely honoured that someone saw the potential – the value in us. We crash land in these roles with very little formal experience of how motivate, inspire and lead others. All the while we are dealing with our own baggage of self-doubt, overly high expectations of who we should be and guilt for not living up to our own expectations and our perceived expectations from others. Not only this, but we also feel responsible for helping others to carry their baggage.
One of the key areas that we have little to no training in is sound decision making. No one trains us to make mindful decisions so we go into emergency mode – we go into reactive mode. We spend our whole day putting out fires and making decisions from a place of weakness – it is overwhelming and it is exhausting!
Hitting Reset and Getting Yourself Out of Reactive Mode
It always starts with us.
In order for us to influence we first have to connect and the first person we need to connect with is ourselves.
There is no magic secret, quick-fix, but the first step in the journey is self-awareness. In order for us to be self-aware we need to stop living in denial.
We first have to admit to ourselves that we have baggage and own up to that baggage, even if it is tempting to try to hide the extra weight in our cabin luggage or the extra bag that we don’t want to declare.
This luggage could be in the form of narratives that we have made up of our lives, behaviour loops, dispositions, mindsets, emotions and self-doubt. Owning up to this can be difficult, confronting and sometimes a bit messy, but self-awareness is also incredibly healing.
Are you making decisions when you are running on empty?
When we are depleted, not getting enough sleep, worrying too much, stressed out and not nourishing ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually it is very easy for us to go into reactive mode.
A quote that I love, from Nanea Hoffman puts this beautifully into words,
You know how you’ll eat anything when you’re starving? Like, you’ll go to the grocery store on an empty stomach and just come home with weird stuff that you don’t need?
Yeah don’t go out into the world with an empty soul. You’ll fill up on all kinds of weird crap. Be sure to nourish yourself first.
I have learnt over time, that I don’t make the best decisions when I am tired or stressed out. I have realised that I should give serious decisions the time and clarity that they deserve, by choosing to delay the decision till I am physically, mentally and spiritually full.
I know that this might seem pretty obvious and slightly ludicrous when you read this – I know, duh, you don’t make good decisions when you are emotional, tired or stressed??? But when you are caught up in reactive mode, you just react!
There is no denying it, we are defined by our decisions and our decisions are largely influenced by the filter of our values.
Decision-making is a lens that sharpens your values and brings them into focus and makes them materialise in the choices that you make. – Dr Joe Arvai
Therefore when making an important decision, I find it helpful to reconnect with my vision, my core values, my “why”. I also give myself permission to percolate:
When we brew coffee and allow it to stand, the coffee strengthens and becomes richer in flavor and aroma.
When we give ourselves time and space to percolate, our ideas become richer and more complex.
We become more focused on the direction we would like to take and clearer on our intentions.
Sometimes when we give ourselves space, solutions or creative ideas might just “appear” in our head.
We often get into the habit of thinking that we have to give an immediate answer to everything and everyone that comes our way. This switches us into reactive mode and we make decisions that we might not have made if we had given ourselves the time and space to apply wisdom.
What type of a decision maker are you?
Part of this process is owning what kind of a decision maker you are. Perhaps you might recognise yourself in one of the following decision-making styles.
The Creative – you have a spark of inspiration and you leap into taking action.
The Creative is really comfortable with change, they are passionate, have lots of momentum and often inspire others with their passion, energy and creative ideas. If you need decisive action, then The Creative is your go to person.
The Creative can often act with-out thinking through the consequences of the decision and the “how”. They often rely on their ability to problem solve on the spot. Creatives often take action from narrowly gathered information or without considering anyone else in the decision- making process.
The Collaborator – you need to get everyone’s input before you can make the decision.
The Collaborator is democratic and flexible in their approach. They are flexible to change, and they are working from the place of “what is best for the collective good”. They like to bounce ideas off other people and make a decision by what suits the team. Collaborators make decisions from a wide range of information and often make sound decisions.
However, Collaborators can sometimes get caught up in other people’s drama and find it challenging to make the “hard” decision when it falls to only them. They can come across as indecisive and “wishy washy”.
The Procrastinator – you always find something more pressing to do that stops you from making a decision.
The Procrastinator dislikes change and will do anything to avoid making a decision or embracing change. Procrastinators will often find things that are more important to do or leave the decision to the last possible moment. Procrastinating behaviour often stems from some underlying narrative about themselves or some underlying barrier that they are in denial from, which stops them from acting decisively.
The Planner – you need to look at the decision from all angles and then look at it again before you can make the decision.
The Planner likes to be in control, they are not entirely comfortable with change and taking risks scare them. They need to work through every possible scenario of what could happen as a result of the decision. They need to know “How”. Planners are super organised and have sound decision making processes.
However they can sometimes “over-think” things and create a lot of stress for themselves and the others around them. Planners need to control the situation and often find it challenging to let others be part of the decision-making process.
Which one are you? We can sometimes see a little of each of these in ourselves depending on the situation. For many of us the type of decision maker we are stems from the narrative we have about ourselves, as well as our dispositions. We also need to be aware with our behaviour loops (behaviour patterns that we default to). Are you a serial controller? Do you have the tendency to sabotage? Do you fall into the trap of “I don’t know?” or “what do you think?”
Beware of decision fatigue
Decision fatigue (yes it is a real thing!) – the average person switches between tasks 566 times a day – especially in this digital age. These constant “micro decisions” deplete our neural resources and slowly strips us from our focus, willpower and energy causing decision fatigue. This reduced focus and energy can deteriorate our ability to make good decisions. This can be both exhausting and overwhelming.
Some ways to guard yourself from decision fatigue are:
- Simplify the choices that you need to make through-out the day. Decide the night before what you are going to wear and eat the next day. If you prepare the night before this amounts to less decisions that you need to make in the morning, safeguarding precious neural resources for more important decisions later in the day. It has been documented that Barrack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs all simplified their work wardrobe to one or two choices in order to counteract decision fatigue. This is why you always see Mark Zuckerberg in his signature grey t-shirt and jeans and Steve Jobs in his polo-neck sweater and jeans. Barrack Obama only wore blue or grey suits in his entire 8 years in the oval office.
- Keep your important decision making for earlier in the day when your energy levels are higher.
- Link similar tasks and decisions together.
- Stop unnecessary internet surfing. Do you need to constantly check your emails and social media status? All this unnecessary browsing is sucking up important decision making energy!
- Spend some time during the day doing nothing. Percolate!!! When we do nothing, this allows our brain the time and space make new connections and better decisions.
How to make more mindful decisions?
It is important to note that as with any leadership skill, the skill of sound decision-making is something that you can learn over time. With awareness, reflection, personal risk-taking and an open mind and heart.
Firstly, it is important to pay attention to the narratives about yourself that are playing in your subconscious. These are the things that you tell yourself about yourself.
Are you a Planner who is sub-consciously saying to yourself “I can’t trust anyone else, so I need to do everything myself”? Are you a Collaborator, who is subconsciously saying “I can’t trust myself, so I have to get everyone else to make the decision for me”? Or are you a Procrastinator who is subconsciously saying “I am so afraid of making a decision because something bad may happen, I will just avoid it”?
I challenge you to look at your past experiences, whether in childhood or adulthood and determine where these messages came from, examine their validity and the power you are giving them over your decisions. Are they causing you to make bad decisions? Are you subconsciously sabotaging yourself, choosing to be the victim or going to “I don’t know-ville”?
I know that thinking like this and examining yourself through this lens is scary and it takes extraordinary courage, but remember that fear is just a feeling and strong emotions are the price of admission to a full and empowered life.
I then challenge you to find new evidence in your life for the person that you REALLY are. When you catch yourself saying mean and horrible things about yourself, you then purposefully tell yourself a new truth – a kinder truth of self-love and empowerment. Think about how you would talk to others. Remember your brain is a muscle, you have the power to rewire it. You have the potential to learn new habits – to learn new knowledge and apply this to your life. Over time you will learn to trust yourself and listen to your heart and gut about what “feels” right.
Once you are self-aware use the following steps to make better decisions:
- Analyse your goals and objectives (what is the desired outcome?).
- What options do you have to choose from?
- What are the possible consequences that result from your choices?
- What are the costs or trade-offs of your decision and can you live with them?
- Reflect, evaluate and practise, practise, practise….
Remember that you are still learning, most of the decisions that we make are not fatal. If you make a bad decision you can always admit that you made a mistake and that this is something that you are working on and make a different decision next time. After all, don’t we tell our children that mistakes are okay and part of how we learn?
What decisions will you make today, and how will you approach them?
where we will unpack tools for self-awareness and self-management as well as examining how we can use emotional literacy to unlock tools for inspirational leadership and building team cultures.
Until next time,