Leaders are decision-makers. As soon as they walk into the office in the morning, they're bombarded with decisions to be made: "Can our business partner sell our product in that new market?", "Do you want to talk to the journalist?", "When should we share the new strategy?"; "Do we fight, or do we just let it slide?".
Most of the decisions experienced leaders make day-in and day-out are intuitive. When presented with a situation where a time-critical decision is required, a leader matches it with something they’ve done in the past and then mentally tests that course of action to see if it works. If the mental simulation works they go with that decision. This ‘match and test’ approach happens in a flash. But there is nothing magical about this. These judgements are based on experience.
People often say that in business, we shouldn’t trust our intuition, however research has demonstrated that intuitive decision-making is not all impulsive. It works best when the decision-maker can see the results of their decision-making, giving them the opportunity to practise the skill and learn from this. This is exactly the environment the modern leader inhabits.
A leader's ability to match and test for quick decision making is therefore based on the size and shape of their experience. So the most effective way of influencing a decision-maker is to provide them with a remarkable experience, or alternatively to tell them about one so that they can vicariously share it.
The key word here is ‘experience’. We have experiences every day. They continually wash over us, but only the ones that evoke an emotion get noticed. Of the experiences that get noticed, a few are translated into a story that explains what happened. Over time, these accumulate into a repertoire of experience-based stories. It is this repertoire that guides intuitive decision-making. To influence a decision-maker, you need to change the stories their intuition relies upon.
How to influence a decision-maker
- Creating new stories
The best stories are the ones that involve the decision-maker. Nothing beats first-hand experience. So if you want to influence a decision-maker, help create situations where they experience something new and remarkable, which will prompt them to formulate a story about what happened. This might involve taking them on a site visit, showing them places in the company they wouldn’t normally go, or get them into circumstances they will find remarkable.
- Sharing experience with stories
If the decision-maker can’t have the experience themselves, then the next best thing is for them to hear the story of what happened. If a business partner wants to obtain support from the CEO to expand initiatives - for example, bringing together people in the firm on a regular basis to learn from each other - the strategy could be that each time they bumped into the CEO, they would tell a new story of how one of the firm’s communities of practice was making a difference. Choosing the right story to tell could be that small but significant step that gets you over the line.
So which stories will you tell?