When birds hit the engines of a US Airways Airbus A320, Captain Sully Sullenberger had just 205 seconds to make life and death decisions before safely crash landing into the Hudson River. The late Enron CEO, Ken Lay, made decisions that led his company to the peak of corporate success, followed by decisions that ultimately led to its devastating demise. Leaders make decisions on a daily basis – and people present, meet and talk with them in an effort to influence their decisions on a range of ideas and projects to achieve organizational or societal goals. What you know – or don’t know about decision-making strategies is crucial to success!

  • Imagine the value to leaders if they better understood their own decision-making strategies. This knowledge could help them make better and timelier decisions; they could also surround themselves with associates that have different decision-making patterns – to guard against “blind spots”.
  • Imagine the value to you — if you could tailor your information and approach to match your leaders’ decision-making strategies. This thought occurred to the Vice President of Operations for a Fortune 500 company – we were working with her when she realized why many of her team’s ideas were shot down by upper management, causing the company to lose out of rich opportunities later picked up by competitors! She promptly asked us to help her team better identify and align with the decision-making preferences of upper management. You can have great content and ideas, but if your approach is a mismatch to the decision-making strategies of key leaders, the odds of them hearing you out and accepting your proposal are greatly diminished.

Most leaders are oblivious to the structure of

their own decision-making process.

Decision-making strategies are habitual. They are made quickly and primarily at a subconscious level, so most leaders are oblivious to the structure of their own decision making process. Yet, that structure exists like the framing a cheaply made or well-built house. It is fascinating to watch these filters in action among leaders of Fortune 500 groups and how it drives their daily thinking and outcomes. There are multiple perceptual filters that drive leaders’ decision-making strategies, but let’s look at three examples – and begin noticing them the next time you meet with leaders:

1. Past, Present or Future Orientation – Every leader has a preference on how they think about and interact with time. Some are more oriented toward the past when making decisions, some are more focused on the present – what’s going on now, while others pay much more attention to the future or the long-term view. We constantly see this pattern play out with corporate leaders in their daily communications. There is a leader of a very successful energy group we have worked with for many years. We conducted an assessment to better understand his decision-making and performance strategies. He scored 152% on his Future Orientation! It is his top pattern, which means it plays a very important role in how he thinks and makes decisions. In most of his conversations, we hear him constantly referencing the future and how today’s actions are impacting future plans and growth. Another leader in the same group scores very high on Past Orientation, and, by contrast, he often speaks of past projects, past history or past experiences that drive his thinking and decisions. Tune in to your leaders and you will hear their preference regarding this perceptual filter.

2. Goal Orientation or Problem Solving – Another perceptual filter that greatly influences a leader’s decision making has to do with their preference for achieving goals or solving problems. Leaders that prefer Goal Orientation are highly focused on moving toward a goal. Whereas, leaders primarily motivated by Problem Solving can achieve the same goal, but their decision making tilts towards recognizing where things could go wrong and solving them. Earlier this year we were asked to participate in a leadership team goal setting session and saw this perceptual filter play out. One executive scored extremely high on Goal Orientation and his presentation was all about achieving results using a certain management system. At the conclusion of his presentation, another leader (who has a very high preference for Problem Solving) asked, “Is there something broken here that we need to fix?” A great learning here is that when you present, realize that your audience will have different decision making filters! Therefore, a more influential presenter will frame an issue in both Goal Orientation and Problem Solving terms for maximum appeal and audience engagement.

3. Sensory Decision Making Filters – Another set of perceptual filters that drive decision making has to do with whether a leader needs to see, hear, read or do something in order to be convinced and move forward with a decision. The second part of this strategy has to do with how many times a leader must be exposed to something (see, hear, read or do) to be convinced. Some leaders are convinced immediately, while others must see, hear, read or do something a certain number of times – and a very small group is never quite convinced. Not too long ago we witnessed a leader deliver most of his presentation in the auditory (hear) mode with very limited visuals or audience participation. We know his leadership group well, and most of them must see something to be convinced and make decisions. Later, we pointed this out to the leader, and he knew immediately why their energy and engagement levels were so low!

Daily, you present… meet… and talk with

leaders to sell them on ideas and projects… The

more you understand how decisions are really

made, the more successful you can be!

Daily, you present… meet… and talk with leaders in an effort to sell them on ideas and projects to meet organizational goals. The more you understand how decisions are really made, the more successful you can be. How much time and resources could be saved – with less guessing about how to approach leaders with important projects and proposals! The same is true for leaders – the more they understand how they make decisions, the more efficient and effective they can be. Self-awareness is the cornerstone of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – and studies show higher EQ translates into better performance, better leaders, the success of bottom line profits and much more. A major element of self-awareness involves decision-making, and your success is closely tied to truly understanding how you and those around you make decisions on a daily basis.