The most important responsibility any top leader will have is to make good decisions. Every challenge or triumph a business will face will be decided by its leaders’ ability to make a tough executive decision using strategy and sound critical thinking in order to serve a greater purpose.
As a headhunter building all-star leadership teams composed of only the top 1% of A+ executive talent, and as a CEO and co-founder of my own high-growth companies, I’ve come across three underrated abilities that elevate executive decision making:
Exercise Critical Thinking Over Judging
Critical thinking is a skill of all great leaders. The biggest transition people make in their careers is to grow from being an individual contributor to the responsibility of a group of people. And the biggest leap in executive capabilities happens when a leader moves from being driven by personal significance to committing to a mission of serving others.
Individual contribution and performance can improve on a linear basis. Team performance and productivity increases on an exponential basis. The thing that holds leaders back from their best executive decision making, their biggest saboteur, is the need to judge. Making a judgement and practicing critical thinking are not one in the same. “Judgment” is often confused for “judging” rather than the productive endeavor of critical thinking.
Judging is egocentric, and rooted in a fear-based drive for self-aggrandizement or preservation. When you are busy managing the perception that others have of you, you judge. Someone who is stuck making judgments rather than thinking critically is someone who thinks he or she is the most important person in any given situation and is subject to getting stuck in myopia. Rather than finding creative solutions that turn lemons into lemonade, those who judge simply place blame on others and then admit defeat.
To preserve and advance the desire of the ego leads people to judge. Judging is an act of close-mindedness and playing small. It’s rooted in the primitive, reptilian part of our brains, where we’re wired for fight or flight. It’s fear-based and motivated by feelings rather than thoughtful analysis. Its purpose is to disguise or manipulate perceptions to appear as truths.
We’re all likely to fall into judging at some point. And we are also capable of overcoming our fears and exercising critical thinking. We practice critical thinking when we transcend survival-mode into instead being driven by mission and service.
When we are mission-oriented, we are driven by team purpose. We value others and think selflessly. Critical thinking is empathy based — instead of being a slave to our own emotions, we consider the feelings of others. We stay open-minded and solutions focused. We’re able to more objectively analyze a situation and make a fair evaluation.
Overcome Your Fear of Taking Strategic Risks
Being a CEO comes with the immense responsibility of continually driving growth by providing vision, purpose and leadership to your team. And while you’re constantly in service to others — in meetings, writing emails, answering questions and making important decisions — it still feels lonely at the top.
You might feel like an imposter putting on a brave face to hide your inner doubts. You can’t let yourself slip. People depend on you. Any wrong move could destroy tremendous value.
The pressures of executive leadership can at times feel overwhelming. CEO depression and anxiety are real. And harboring that anxiety without taking steps to overcome it only makes things worse.
Research on executive decision making has found that a CEO’s anxiety can hinder a company’s growth. A leader with anxiety will focus on potential threats rather than seeing potential opportunity. This kind of fear can prevent an anxious CEO from taking important strategic risks.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
While every decision should be thoughtfully evaluated, it has also been proven that calculated risks often precede high growth. Thankfully, our fears as CEOs are not insurmountable. Struggle, in fact, is a requirement for growth.
Here are concrete steps you can make to overcome anxiety and take strategic risks:
1. Be Purpose-Driven
Are your fears inhibiting you from fully actualizing your mission in business and in life? Leaders with the most influence lead with purpose. Napoleon Hill wrote that ‘definiteness of purpose’ is the starting point of all achievement. Clarity around your purpose gives you power. It gives you the courage and conviction to take risks that move you towards your grand purpose.
2. Take Massive Action
Taking massive action begins with simple steps. Try different things. If something’s not working, try something else. Restrategize and reinvent. You know Einstein’s quote about insanity; it makes no sense to repeat the same thing while expecting different results. Take note of what doesn’t work and create a new solution.
3. Bring Your Best Self
When you’re under extreme pressure, it’s easy to focus on your work and not on how to take care of yourself — even though self-care will help you optimize for better results. Remember the important instructions: if your plane loses cabin pressure, put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. Love and care for yourself by staying active, practicing good nutrition and getting enough sleep. Work on getting your brain chemistry right by finding healthy ways to promote good vibes (through exercise, meditation, good music — get creative!). As a leader, the best investment you can make is in your own learning, growth, health and wellness. Then you can maximize the contribution you make to others.
Learn to Master Your Mojo & Get in the Zone
Professional development at its core is a process of personal growth. All self-improvement begins with self-reflection. The biggest catalyst of growth for any leader is almost always the realization of a truth. And yet for many of us, a huge gap remains between our self-image — what we tell ourselves and portray to others — and our inner truth.
Ego and hubris are telltale signs of someone who has not taken the time to reflect and search for their inner truth. This person searches for personal significance from external sources — prestige and power over others. Someone with this inflated sense of personal significance is disconnected from reality and exhibits three qualities: they’re entitled, invulnerable and invincible.
But we can’t always be invincible. Those who can’t embrace this human truth never find self-love. Real confidence is self-love rooted in humility and a growth mindset. And the reconciliation between inner truth and self-image requires loving yourself.
Greatness in any field begins with a powerful inner state. This quality has been called ‘being in the zone,’ finding your ‘flow’ or ‘mojo.’ What this really means is that you’ve achieved internal reconciliation between who you truly are and the person you portray who is worthy of respect, admiration and love. When you are convinced of yourself and no longer preoccupied with seeking external validation, you have mastered your mojo.
Love is humanity’s greatest gift, and we are all still learning how to love. Once we have trust in ourselves that we are enough, this inner abundance creates external abundance. Reconcile the gap between inner truth and self image. This is the way to master your mojo and make the greatest contribution to your grand purpose.
From truth comes wisdom. From wisdom comes limitless possibility. Make sure your executive decision making is always rooted in truth and wisdom.