Quick Action vs. Patience by Managers

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Much is said and written extolling the virtues of managers and leaders who make quick decisions and take action. Certainly the management skills of effective delegation and project execution generally benefit from “quick response management.” It is also true that a number of mistakes are made when quick actions miss the mark. New problems and delays can be created by taking fast action without appropriate levels of “think-through.”

How does a dedicated manager determine when quick action is warranted and where taking more time to determine the course of action would be better? What is really behind the science of the minds use of  “logic vs. instinct?”

What is the science behind the thinking process for managers?

In order to understand the natural process the mind takes in making decisions and choices, we need to take a look at the current science behind our thinking process. We aren’t trying to get too technical, but every manager of people and projects is in a position to influence outcomes. They can benefit from a deeper understanding of just how the mind sources it’s thought process. Understanding the process will help any manager to make better decisions and result in increased productivity and successful execution.

Research, into how the mind works, is widespread and advanced. The source for our article is research being done at Harvard’s Moral cognition Lab as reported in an Article in Discovery Magazine, July/August 2011, titled The End Of Morality, by Kristine Ohlson. Our objective here is to look at factors from this research that could be of value to managers and executives who lead teams and have decision authority. At the core, of this research, are the following factors.

  1. The first mental process is “Instinct.” When faced with the need to make a decision, we have these Instincts. These instincts feel like they are correct or have a level of “authority.” The problem with these quick, instinctive thoughts is that they what are doing does not come from a place of authority. They come from emotional reactions that are built into our mental process.
  2. When faced with a difficult or stress based decision, such as managers face frequently, we default to the Instinctive thinking. This is because emotions rise to top of mind more quickly and it does not take as much brain-effort to react instinctively..

The choice of reason vs. instinct

“Instinctive thinking” is not our only choice. We have the “Reasoned Thinking” mental process at our disposal when the need to take action occurs. The problem is that managers have the potential conflict between the two mental processes. Instinct vs. Reason. The result is often a brain in conflict with itself. So, in the context of how a manager determines a course of action in decision making, how do you know which is right in the moment and how does this choice affect outcomes? It of course depends.

There well always be critical situations where there is little or no time available and Action is King. Situations where lives are threatened, customers at risk, systems going down. Any event where serious consequences might occur if immediate action is not take will require the leader to use their instincts. This is acceptable as a management requirement. Most decisions and actions are not at the critical level. Most managers face important and routine issues and decisions.

The roadblock to a proper thinking process for uncovering the right solution rests with understanding and acceptance of the natural conflict between Instinct & Reasoned thinking. Sometimes our instincts will actually tell us to hold back on taking an action. Here, it may take strong reasoned thinking override not to act on our instincts. Conversely, sometimes our instincts may push for immediate action without further thought. Here again, the reasoned thinking process, would need to over-ride our instincts, if in fact taking fast instinctive action might end up being the wrong choice. How do we know? the Discover magazine article includes a phrase on a bumper sticker that says, “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.” this applies to both Instinctive and reasoned thinking.

Here are several suggestions to manage the conflict between Instinctive thinking versus reasoned thinking when managers have important and time sensitive decisions to make.

  • If the decision does not have to be made in the next 10 minutes, set a time aside as soon as possible when you can simply jot down both the options and the potential outcomes for each. Take the small amount of time it will take to consider and compare options, and then make a firm committed decision.
  • If a member of the team needs or is expecting a decision now, simply indicate you will consider the options and meet with them at a specific time as soon as practical. Again, the manager will quickly list both their instinct driven solutions and take 10 – 15 minutes to list some more reasoned though through options.
  • If the issue and decision process will involve key members of the team or business unit, schedule a “decision discussion” with a tight agenda. Here is the problem. What are your initial thoughts on a solution? Then, ask what other options can we think up? Finally, what are the potential outcomes and issues for each idea. Select the best solution from among those on the table.

What this boils down to is the recognition that the alarm bells of our instinctive, emotion-driven thought process are likely to be going off loud and strong in the initial stages of thinking about a solution. What is needed is the skill of saying “okay, I know what my first reaction is, but now I need to allow my reasoning process to get equal time.” Managers can learn to make better “quick decisions” by being wiling to set the first instinctive thoughts aside and allow their experience and reasoning ability weigh in on the problem. What will result is a more fully developed set of options and the ability to select the best by reflection and a review of outcomes? Pursuing this skill of letting both the instinctive and reasoned thinking has equal time in pinpointing the right solution or decision will result in more effective delegation, better execution and growth in advanced management skills.


Michael D. Moore is the publisher of Management By Delegation and is a veteran executive with 40+ years in the Banking and Insurance Industries. A devoted entrepreneur, using his business experience to provide resources for managers and leaders at all levels. For the last 5 years, he has built a growing web presence for helping people with personal and professional development. To learn more about these advanced concepts & join our group Click here 5 Must Have Management Skills

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