How to improve your decision making even when you're under pressure

When I first focused on the topic of feminine ambition, leadership and gender diversity, one of the issues that came up time and time again in my reading, was the difference between the ways that men and women make decision.

#Fascinating - as leadership expert, Lisa McInnes Smith would say.

Stereotypically - men are inclined to make rapid decisions, whereas women appear to want check all the details and make sure it's the "right" or a "perfect" decision. 

This insistence on making the right decision or a perfect decision, gets in the way of action, forward or upward momentum, and, let's be honest, your fast track to the C-suite. But importantly for some women, the inability to make a decision under pressure will mean that you aren't in a position to be heard, or make a bigger difference - even with the best of intentions.

Success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.
— Michelle Obama

Gender diversity and decision making

We know from the research into gender diversity that organisations with gender diversity in the senior leadership team (C-suite and Board) perform better on a range of measures, plus also do better at keeping out of trouble in terms of governance and risk. The experts put this down to better and more robust decision making. So it's not that one way is more right than the other. It's the balance that really works.

Let's get scientific

There is even a bunch of science involved that slows the decision making process down for women especially when under stress or pressure including:

  • Testosterone drives a bias towards action, decisiveness and risk taking, whereas oestrogen drives a far more prudent approach - and men have 10 times more testosterone than women on average.
  • The amygdala, responsible for our irrational response to fear type emotions - fight, flight or freeze, tends to be more sensitive in women than men, meaning we lay down stronger emotional memories as a results of negative consequences - possibly contributing to us wanting to avoid negative events in the future.
  • The anterior cingulate cortex - affectionately nicknamed the worrywart centre - tends to be larger in women than men. According to some researchers, this houses the software of our brain that scans for things in the background that might go wrong. Just like a virus scanner on your laptop, or a sensor on your car.

Whether you make decisions fast or slow is not a sign of a being a better person. However being able to make effective decisions in the face of uncertainty is definitely a desirable leadership trait.  And pressure - stress, anxiety, worry and fear - can trigger less rational responses, which get in the way of effective decision making.

“You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.”
— Michelle Obama

Any decision, even the wrong decision, is better than no decision

So here is the most helpful advice I've been able to find to help you to keep moving forward with your leadership and career aspirations. It's really easy to remember. It's pretty simple to implement. And it can make all the difference to your career when you implement immediately.

Any decision, even the wrong decision, is better than no decision
— Russell Boon


Russell Boon, decision making expert and emergency management expert, uses this great analogy. If you are driving in your car looking for a specific address and you come to a T intersection and you don't know if the number you want is to the left or to the right. What do you do?

a) You could sit at the intersection and do nothing - holding up traffic, and not getting any new information to help you make the decision.

b) Or you could turn one way, which brings new information (the street numbers) into your line of vision, enabling you to work out if you need to do a U-turn, or not, in order to get to the correct address on time.

Answer a) is definitely safe and prudent. You haven't made a mistake. But neither will you get to your desired destination on time, plus you've got a queue of cars lined up behind you, possibly tooting their horns and ramping up the pressure, making it even more difficult to decide what to do next.

Answer b) has a 50:50 chance of being right, yet it means that even if you are wrong, you then get new information which helps you make a better informed decision straight away. The proviso is that you need to be looking for, and open to, new information and be in a position to course correct should you need to.

So what else is at play here? 

Sometimes, we think that decisions are final and that it's not okay to change your mind. This type of mindset will definitely slow you down.  In effective decision making, it's absolutely imperative you allow yourself the room to course correct based on new information that comes to light as a result of the initial decision you made.

To quote the very famous Winston Churchill;

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution #feminineambition #lookoutCsuitehereshecomes

  •  I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science and art of amping smart and savvy.
  • I mentor busy professionals to ensure they remain strategic, agile and focused on the bigger game.
  • I also work with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but struggling to do so



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