One thing was clear from my interviews with 77 executives. These executives were clear on their values and principles. And they use them. Their values provide a course to navigate difficult decision-making.
Perhaps you discovered, as they did that the farther up the ladder into leadership positions the fewer boundaries there are to constrain or guide decisions. Plus, decisions become increasingly complex. Consider complex decisions for a moment. What makes them so complex?
Complex decisions may not have a single correct answer. There may be conflicting principles at play (fulfilling a profit margin versus providing an affordable product for less fortunate consumers). The risk can be high such as when choosing between two competing directions for company investment. There is great latitude and range of choice. It can be hard to chart a course through an open sea of options. That’s where values come in.
Leaders describe using their values or principles to narrow the range of options. And what helps them know when a trajectory is aligned with their values – their feelings. I’m sure it’s happened to you. You struggle with a decision trying to convince yourself – logically – of a particular course of action. But it doesn’t feel right and you hesitate. On the other hand, choices that are aligned with your value system simply feel better than other choices.
Leaders described searching for and trusting in the decision that “just feels right.” Inevitably that decision aligns with their value system. Those decisions feel right because they are in sync with our experience and with our deeply held beliefs. Your brain recognizes that alignment and generates a feeling of congruence. Your brain also knows when a decision is not in alignment. That sophisticated brain of yours sends off red flares to awaken you to a lack of congruence. You know it when you feel it.
Leaders also point out the importance of having a personal value system that aligns with the company culture. Their decision-making is faster and more confident since they can trust their feelings to guide them to a solution that works for them and the company. In one particular executive interview, the leader had spent many years in public service and was now highly placed in a private sector company. He talked with great clarity about his inability to trust his intuition in his new setting. His values – honed over years of public service – naturally pointed him to decisions that were for the public good. Unfortunately, the business also needed to make a profit. He noted that for each decision, he had to identify the choice that felt best to him while consciously validating and adapting it based on what he knew about the company’s values and long-term goals.
Do you know your values? Do you know the principles that guide your decision-making as a leader? Are you allowing yourself to recognize when your feelings say, “Aha – that’s the right decision?” Those feelings aren’t infallible but they are always worthy of consideration.
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