Leadership and Decision making

Leadership and Decision Making

These days decisions aren’t easy, options aren’t obvious, impacts are huge. How do we determine what to prioritise, what to focus on, and what is the best and right thing to do? We need to understand what happens at moments of choice in the brain.

There seems to be at least 2 different pathways involved in our decision making. These have been named the HIGH ROAD and LOW ROAD by neuroscientists.

As adults, we have some choice over which pathway we tend to use in different situations.

The low road connects three key functions:

  1. Reactive self-referencing (impact on me)
  2. Warning centre (generating feelings of fear or not) 
  3. Habit centre (automatic thoughts and responses)

Our brains are predictive engines and the low road has evolved to make that process timely. It generally works well, particularly if the situation at hand is relatively simple. In more complex situations like “work”, deceptive brain messages frequently arise from the low road with complacency or all-or-nothing thinking.

These are brain biases or “little hacks “our brain creates to simplify and speed things up. A bias could save your life if it helps you react quickly or it could give you a rather distorted view (compared to others) of what might be happening in a situation with negative consequences.

With life’s many and constant challenges, using the low road uses less energy and helps us to meet them in an ‘efficient’ (but not always effective) way. We will let you draw your own conclusions on how this plays out in some current political leaders!

The high road has the perspective of the clear-minded observer and is focused on longer-term, broader-based positive thinking. The high road connects three functions too – these being:

  1. Warning centre (as with the low road, this channels urgency)
  2. Deliberative self-referencing (consideration of others) 
  3. Executive function (accessibility of information, cognitive flexibility, and self-regulation)

Two high road cognitive habits support this process – mindfulness (being aware and clear on one’s own thinking) and mentalising (recognising what others might be thinking and their likely responses). Mentalising is also known as Theory of Mind

The more we pay attention to the high road, the more we strengthen that strategic, clear-thinking part of the brain and our leadership acumen.

Neuroplasticity allows the brain to rewire to be more effective (interestingly, those with lower status in organisations tend to mentalise more than those higher up the food chain).

By being more self-aware of our thinking biases, we can learn to think more clearly and deploy thinking tools more effectively.