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Monday, February 2, 2009

Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions

In the January 2009 issue of the HBR, authors Andrew Campbell, Jo Whitehead, and Sydney Finkelstein describe why good leaders can sometimes make bad decisions. Key quote of the article: “Our brains leap to conclusions and are reluctant to consider alternatives; we are particularly bad at revisiting our initial assessment of the situation(p.86)."

The authors offer three compelling unconscious reasons/distortions from neuroscience:
--Self Interest—if inappropriate, always distorts and corrupts decisions.
--Misleading Memories—subconscious pattern analysis sometimes sees what’s happening as the same pattern we’ve seen before, but that’s not always the case and gets us into troublesome decisions.
--Distorting Attachments—we fall in love with ideas, people, and places, which can become infatuations that take us down a road of infatuation that clouds judgment.

The authors point out “red flags” to look for. Here are just a few of the many they offer; :
--Lay out all options.
--Consider the principal decision maker—and assess his/her possible self interests, misleading memories, and distorting attachments (I have my clients always appoint a “devil’s advocate” for all major decisions. It can be a person or a team, but it/they keep the process honest).
--Consider anyone else whose opinion holds great weight in the decision- making process and consider his or her self interest, misleading memories, and distorting attachments.

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