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The success of an enterprise is the sum of decisions made in the course of doing business. It must follow, then, that a manager’s value lies in the quality of his or her decisions. Effective leaders make their decision-making look easy. As with superior athletes or gifted artists, they seem to be relying on instinct and intrinsic gifts, while all the while executing a learned response that is the result of endless practice and discipline. Good decisions hinge on mental clarity. Clarity comes from a state of mental concentration, of focusing thoughts and paying attention. Clarity is reached by training the mind to be precise and accurate in its definitions, assumptions and evaluations.
Having worked with hundreds of CEOs of various size companies in many industries, I have concluded that there is a state of mind — a clarity state — that the decision maker must reach in order for a good decision to come together. The clarity state is characterized by a balance of physical, mental and emotional systems. According to findings in both neuroscience and sports physiology, it is actually a measurable physical and emotional state of being relaxed, positive and focused. Neuroscientists confirm that reaching that state of coherence enables us to use more of our brain power than we normally do. Athletes and trainers have come to realize that reaching that balanced mental state can greatly improve physical performance.
Interestingly, much of today’s conventional wisdom about effective management and leadership runs counter to achieving clarity. The habit of multitasking, for example, which had been practically deified, is in sharp contrast with achieving the focus that leads to peak performance. Being competitive, which is considered inextricable from being effective, creates stress and anxiety. Neuroscientists have proved that under stress our brains fall into the state of cortical inhibition, essentially closing down certain parts of our brains for use. Similarly, the national religion of workaholism, exacerbated by the ubiquity of cell phones and the Internet, can lead to so much stress and fatigue that the brain chronically operates at lower capacity.
Effective leaders instinctively know how to overcome these obstacles and reach the clarity state. For others, reaching clarity is a skill that can be learned, and once learned, it can be leveraged. But attaining clarity in a physical and emotional sense will not alone ensure a clear decision.
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