“Muscle memory” habits account for nearly half of our decisions. The rest are heavily influenced by the wisdom of our emotional intelligence. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to show the extent to which EQ impacts our decision-making. In one study, “Those who scored in the high EQ category were ten times as likely to…make good decisions.”

At the apex of decision-making prowess is the ability to make executive-level decisions where you can’t be sure there is one right answer. These decisions often involve people or strategy and have a profound impact on the organization and the employees who work for it.

These tough choices fall in the gray areas where perfect information is lacking. In our experience, next leaders tend to struggle with these more nuanced decisions (as do we all!). Unlike their successful track records as contributors, executive-level decisions rely on a set of skills that might not yet be developed. Making executive-level decisions is a skill in and of itself that needs to be consciously nurtured and developed.

Executive-Level Thinking

One way to conceptualize the challenge of executive-level decision-making is Bloom’s Taxonomy, a model used to classify learning objectives into a hierarchy of complexity and specificity. There are six levels. From the least to most complex they are:

  • Knowledge involves recognizing or remembering basic facts and concepts. An example of achieving this level of understanding might include the ability to name three personality traits.
  • Comprehension is the ability to understand facts by organizing, interpreting, or comparing. Comprehension could enable you to identify the comparative differences between extroverts and introverts.
  • Application involves knowledge that you have gained and using it in new situations to solve problems. In this case, applying knowledge of personality traits could help you to answer the question of whether people with introversion or extroversion tendencies would be better for a specific task.
  • Analysis allows you to break information into component parts, determine information relationships, identify causes, make assumptions, and find evidence. This skill would allow you to train different personality types in the most effective manner, and collect data to support your assertion.
  • Synthesis involves building patterns and structures from disparate elements. It would allow you, for example, to build a great team from a dysfunctional one.
  • Evaluation is the ability to present and defend opinions based on judgments of information, idea validity, or quality of work. Evaluation would allow you to identify which combination of personality types make the best team for a particular purpose, and why.

Contributors tend to master the first three levels: knowledge, comprehension, and application. Each subsequent level requires more complexity and confidence, with evaluation as the most challenging for those who are learning to be executives. It is at this point where biases further contribute to the struggles of next leaders. As discussed in other chapters of my book, The Leadership Decade, we are ill-equipped to see all the data needed. As Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize for his work on judgment and decision-making, said, “What you see is all there is.”

For next leaders to transition into executive-level decision-makers, they need opportunities to build their decision-making skill sets. The Leadership Decade means ensuring that next leaders understand the context in which they are making their decisions, including building their emotional intelligence skills and recognizing their biases. Even further, organizations must provide opportunities to practice those skills by providing meaningful opportunities to influence decisions that impact the organization.

Adapted from our best-selling book, The Leadership Decade: A Playbook for an Extraordinary Era. If you’d like to purchase a copy, please visit s21.us/tldbook for a hardback book or s21.us/tldebook for an ebook. For even more information, check out theleadershipdecade.com.