Recently I took part in a lecture by Dr. Denise Rousseau, an industrial psychologist and all around firecracker of a human being.  In her lecture Dr. Rousseau described the concept of evidence-based management—a process for improving decisions.  One of the techniques for improving our business decisions is the same technique we use for improving our leadership decisions—pausing.

Decision science research (yes, there is such a thing) agrees that pausing increases decision quality.  So often, when facing a decision, we will make those decisions without much evidence.  We get hijacked by our emotions, by our ego, by our fears, by our biases and assumptions and never slow down long enough to thoughtfully consider our options.

Pausing means becoming “decision aware” . . . taking a moment to press our mental pause button and consider the available data and our options.  It also means reflecting on our values, our biases, and our assumptions and how these shape our decisions.

When we hit our mental pause button, we give the rational brain a part to catch up with the emotional brain.  We also do something Dr. Rousseau called “complexifying the problem,” by deeply considering all sides of an issue.  (Complexify is a great word, as in “Becoming a manager complexified my life.”)

Let’s say your boss has recently announced a change in the organization, and did so in a way that left his team upset, angry, and out of sorts.  You are also out of sorts, but recognize an opportunity to lead up.  When we are faced with this sort of leadership decision (or feel ourselves getting emotionally hijacked), we should hit our mental pause button and ask at least one of the following questions:

  • What evidence do I have?  You might consider how you know that his team is upset, angry and out of sorts.  You may also think:  “If I give my boss tough feedback, he will fire me.”  Do you have any evidence that this has happened in the past and if it will happen in the future?
  • How does this decision align with my values and goals?  For example, if you value leadership and developing others, deciding to give your boss feedback aligns with your values.  If your goal is to become a leader, then giving feedback will help you achieve that goal.
  •  What are the ethical considerations of this decision? Is this decision right versus wrong, or right versus right?  For example, it’s wrong to lie and tell a person they were great, when they clearly were not. (Doing nothing is just as bad.)  It’s right to give other people feedback on their performance if we care about their success, but it’s also right to strengthen our relationships when we can (and poorly delivered feedback can tear down a relationship instead of building it up.)  There is a way to give feedback that strengthens the relationship and supports the person’s success, if we pause long enough to think about it.

The next time you are faced with a tough decision, hit the pause button.  Your decision quality will be better.  Just don’t pause so long that the decision gets made for you.




Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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