Leaders can make good decisions or less good decisions. Several years ago, we set out to understand the causes of these less good decisions. Our main finding is that the bad decisions start when the brain lets us down.
Decision making lies at the heart of every organization. Leaders can make good decisions or less good decisions. Our interest has been in the causes of less good decisions. Recent events in global finance have provided an abundance of examples of leaders getting it wrong. However, the problem is not limited to the financial sector or even to business. Bush and Blair made decision errors with regard to Iraq. Brigadier Matthew Broderick judged that the levees in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina had not been breached, delaying federal aid by 24 hours. The Queen of England chose to remain for four days at her castle in Scotland following the death of Diana, ex-Princess of Wales, despite the pleading of PM Tony Blair.
As a result, we set out, several years ago, to understand the causes of these less good decisions. Our main finding is that the bad decisions start when the brain lets us down.
How our brain can let us down
Most of the time our brain processes help us understand the situation we face and choose a good action plan. Less good decisions result from the same brain processes. The difference is the circumstances. In certain situations, the brain processes that normally get us to good decisions, lead us instead to less good decisions. There are two processes we need to understand: pattern recognition and emotional tagging.