Written by Vanessa Whitehead, NOC Director

In Chinese writing the word “Crisis” is expressed in the form of two Chinese characters. The first represents the word for “Chaos”. The second signifies the word for “Opportunity”. It seems ironic that in 2020 amidst the global crisis these words summarize our reality as we try to get our heads (and hearts) to fathom what the opportunities emanating from this chaos could be.As Leaders in this crisis together, we are faced with the reality of having to make prompt decisions, take sensible actions, and deliver results that favor our institutions and our people and not “one at the expense of the other”. Finding that balance between facts versus feelings – head versus heart – emotions versus logical thinking – all the while trying to make sense of the chaos; and set aside our own personal emotions.

“Action taken in panic – a blind panic – is rarely going to give something your best shot”. So how do we find our way through the panic, balance our emotions with reason and make decisions that positively impact ourselves, our families, employees, customers, stakeholders, and organisations?

Great leaders understand how to balance emotion with reason. They develop crucial qualities needed to become great decision-makers. We will discuss three of these qualities:

  1. Emotional intelligence
  2. The ability to handle uncertainty
  3. The ability to weigh evidence with intuition

1. Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman defines Emotional Intelligence as “our ability to understand and manage our emotions and those of others”. This is one of the most important qualities a leader must possess. Emotional intelligence consists of:

The key to success is to our ability to recognize our emotions, be influenced by them but not blinded by them. We cannot bury our emotions, worries and fears. We need to be able to express our feelings and decisions calmly and clearly to others even when we experience intense emotions within ourselves and from others. We need to be aware of our emotional state so that we can manage the intense emotions and make smart decisions. Our feelings have functions – they provide us with insights and give us an opportunity to follow our inner wisdom. They give us clues as to what choices, roles, and decisions are best for us. They motivate us to change and create healthier boundaries. We don’t have to act on all our feelings/emotions as sometimes they don’t serve us, but we do need to acknowledge what we are feeling and decide how to act. We need to process our feelings otherwise those stored feelings will lead to stress and physical symptoms e.g. hypertension, muscle tension, gastrointestinal problems, addictions, and headaches.

2. The ability to handle uncertainty

We are often paralyzed by uncertainty and end up basing our decisions on things that aren’t relevant. We get caught in over-analysis commonly known as “analysis paralysis”. We know we need to move quickly and proceed with the available information versus taking time to gather additional and sometime irrelevant information. Great leaders need to know when to stop gathering data and go back to the big picture or key data points.We seek certainty and security before we make a decision and we may find a false sense of security in our mountain of facts. Like reigning in our negative emotions to achieve emotional self-control, sometimes we need to accept uncertainty rather than try to resolve it. Focus our limited time, energy and money on making the best decisions in the face of an uncertain outcome. We do not mean that you should not bother to analyze a situation before making a decision – but know how to gather the necessary information to resolve the situation without getting stuck or investing too much time or resources in the analyses. Ask yourself if the uncertainty that you are attempting to resolve is resolvable. If not – accept the uncertainty and move on. Limit your choices to make the best decision.When there are more than five or six options, we have a more difficult time deciding and often opt not to make a decision. Keep your options below five and you will find it easier to decide.

3. Weigh evidence with intuition

We hear intuition described as “a nagging little voice inside of us”. It may speak softly or scream out at us. In our non-stop, technology-filled worlds we may find it difficult to hear our intuition. Excellent leaders often say they follow their “gut” to make decisions. They trust themselves and their expertise and do not get stuck in the cycle of over thinking. The more we know about a subject the more reliable our intuition will be. Finding a few moments of reflection, a walk, a warm bath, gardening etc. provide perfect opportunities for us to hear out intuition. When we find time to be a human being and not a human doing, we may be surprised at what we hear. Otherwise if we do not yet trust or hear our intuition – ask for advice or guidance from someone whose intuition we trust and test their intuition to our own.
As a great leader, we need to be comfortable with discomfort. We can only do our best with the information we have available to us at the time. There cannot be a right or a wrong answer – perhaps an inferior option but we will learn that we can handle the outcome and find unexpected opportunities for growth as we navigate the tightrope and find our own personal balance between facts and feelings – head and heart. We cannot lead courageously without both.We are challenged to draw on qualities that will enable us to walk this tight rope, navigate these unprecedented times and never lose sight that to survive we must balance Head and Heart. We need to understand and manage our emotions and those of others. We need to be comfortable with discomfort. We can only do our best with the information we have available to us at the time to move quickly and then to proceed. We need to hear our intuition, follow our “gut” to make decisions and trust ourselves and our expertise and not get stuck in the cycle of over thinking.In so doing, navigate the tightrope and find our own personal balance between facts and feelings – head and heart. We cannot lead courageously without bothWritten by Vanessa Whitehead, NOC Director(1)Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership, (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2004). (2)Larina Kase – Gradiazo Business Review 2010