Deadlines, stress cause leaders to make poor choices

Neuroimaging can show how leaders and executives make decisions and react to situations, leading to a clearer picture of the processes and thoughts behind tough decision-making, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Neuroimaging shows that deadlines often limit thinking, can lead to worse decision-making and can increase stress levels,  Richard Boyatzis, Ph.D., and colleagues found. Although the brain uses its "task positive" network for problem solving, it's not the part of the brain that comes up with original ideas, according to the article.

"The research shows us that the more stressful a deadline is, the less open you are to other ways of approaching the problem," Boyatzis, a professor in the departments of organizational behavior, psychology and cognitive science at Case Western Reserve University, told the WSJ. "The very moments when in organizations we want people to think outside the box, they can't even see the box."

To combat stress brought on by deadlines, companies should stimulate the creative parts of employees' brains when they're under pressure through meditation exercises. Meditation will help executives think differently, which researchers found is more effective, Srini Pillay, M.D., assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School and founder of the coaching firm NeuroBusiness Group, told the WSJ.

Uncertainty also leads to bad decision-making, with neuroimagers finding that it activated brain centers associated with anxiety and disgust, which can lead to decision-making based on fear. In an evolving and ever changing industry, healthcare executives must accept uncertainty as part of the territory. Accept it, Pillay said, and recognize that no decision is final--there's always an opportunity to re-evaluate, according to the article.

The best leaders focus more on emotion than logic, researchers found, with many neuroimages of mid-career executives giving analysis and recommendations reflecting brain activity in the parts used for social and emotional thinking. Strategic thinkers displayed higher level of activities in these areas, according to WSJ.

Researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York say that postponing the onset of the decision process by as little as 50 to 100 milliseconds allows the brain to block out distractions and focus on the most relevant information, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Taking no action for a moment before making a final decision actually helps people come to better conclusions, according to research published in the journal PLoS One.

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