A dispiriting discovery for successful executives is finding that the razor-sharp, lightning-fast decision making that had served them so well in their careers is starting to backfire. Executives who’ve found themselves in this  predicament frequently see that what was once an asset has become an obstacle. Let me clarify what I mean.

Seasoned executives typically draw from their rich experience to make quick decisions when posed with a problem brought by a direct report or other staff member. My impression is that these highly intelligent individuals, when they began honing their decision-making skills, rapidly and subliminally make intricate assessments – of the individual posing the problem, of the situation in which the problem arose and of their own desired outcome. Habits creep up on you; what began as a highly complex and active evaluation of a specific issue somehow is subconsciously converted into a set of protocols. We often find ourselves replicating our responses to apparently similar earlier experiences and slipping into auto-pilot mode.

Habitualised responses, originally borne of intelligent individual assessments, have become a set of off-the-shelf, “here’s one I made earlier,” reactions. Instead of the desired outcomes, what tends to happen is fragmentation into turf wars and avoidance of the issues in the form of foxholes (metaphorical pre-dug bolt-holes that people enter when they feel endangered), stove pipes and silos, wherein communication only happens vertically through lines of control because cross-organisational communication has been tacitly inhibited.

This is when vital issues are left unsaid, because they’re believed to be unspeakable or unworthy of discussion – a potentially dangerous situation for the executive, the staff and the organisation which Gestalt coach and consultant Herb Stevenson calls “quietly suffering loudly.” Instead of drifting into despondency or fearing that they’ve lost their mojo, executives who have found themselves mired in this kind of vicious circle can be coached into a more favourable alternative.

Next time, I’ll discuss the arts of pausing, reflecting and choosing.

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