August 15 2019

2 Mindsets For Making The Right Decisions Under Pressure

When it comes to ‘high-impact’ decision-making, nothing quite compares to the daunting pressure of a real-time cricket stadium: one wrong turn, one slight miscalculation – and the game is lost to the other side.

Photo credit :  US-Women-GettyImages-1160858454

However, with England’s surprise victory in the spotlight, many cricket enthusiasts are wondering whether there is more to this win than meets the eye: when faced the real-time pressure of meeting the target, athletes such as Ben Strokes simply do not have the mental bandwidth to recall training principles.

Ultimately, executors need a refined gut instinct; and there are two mindsets that ensure that this intuition is primed for the best end-result.

Angela Ahrendts: 'The last five years have been the most stimulating, challenging and fulfilling of my career' © Bloomberg


For the average spectator, it would be easy to interpret with ‘big win’ of Ben Strokes and his team against New Zealand as a handful of fortunate events: after all, the incremental steps and training that led to this endpoint would be too bland to make the headline. Ultimately, we may be hard-wired to understand success as one-time results and events. But this distracts us from the more realistic processes that set the conditions for smart outcomes to occur – and managing perceived risk is a prime example.

When making high-impact decisions in any domain, the ignorance of limits may be the biggest limit of them all: consciously disregarding the limits facing you and your team may be tolerated as a confidence boost to push for the win even further – but many of the more innovative strategies taken to achieve certain targets are often only discovered as a by-product of pivoting in response to a newfound risk or dilemma. In the business and sports domain, we see this same pattern re-appear: smart project leaders see limits as something to embrace – not to ignore.

However, this tendency to acknowledge performance limits when managing team members may not only create opportunities for new ‘pivoted’ strategies – but may also play a deeper role in preserving bandwidth for important priorities: according to recent studies in management psychology, managers that reported to ignore perceived limitations led to more erratic team management outcomes; whereas project managers that sacrificed the confidence boost of ‘perfect world’ goal setting with clearer limitations in mind actually achieved higher project performance (Alias, 2014).



Although planning projects and organising team members around potential limitations may provide an edge for any team leader; this also needs to be fuelled with a drive to ‘push through’ obstacles at any given notice.

Ultimately, the ‘secret ingredient’ behind the success of athletes such as Eoin Morgan may be a culmination of in-depth training practice; and the big hits of any CEO may only be the ‘tip of the iceberg’, with years of prior work behind the scenes. But if there is one common thread between every successful executer, it is how barriers or ‘breaking points’ are handled behaviourally – and pushed through to arrive at the other side.

However, this ‘drive’ to push through perceived barriers may not only be a quality that maintains confidence to face new risks and adversity; but according to recent studies, this behavioural trait may actually constitute a subconscious ‘stress management mechanism’ designed to maintain mental bandwidth for key responsibilities as an unanticipated risk is dealt with over the short term:

This ability to ‘push through’ perceived risks and barriers is referred to as behavioural posture when interacting with team members. This ensures that the leader continues ‘positive re-enforcement’ of his colleagues and ensures that team members continue with the same confidence as before the new risk was noticed. By contrast, a lack of behavioural posture ‘transfers’ subconscious feelings of stress from manager to colleague – thus degrading productivity even further (Wilson, 2014).


A framework for comprehensive stress prevention and management in the workplace. Cary Cooper, 2013.



In this week’s article, we discussed two mindsets that keep team leaders productive when making high-impact decisions: successful leaders must first plan projects in an environment of realistic limits and boundaries, and ensure that team members are focused on the rigour of process rather than an ideology of the end result; but then leaders should also balance this realism with the behavioural ‘robustness’ to manage and handle risks when they do arrive. If you are a sports or business leader, consider applying the following tasks to improve your own decision-making process:

  1. Plan for a failed first attempt: instead of using the final project deadline as your barometer for success, instead plan multiple test periods that offer your team the opportunity to revisit assumptions and learn from error in advance: a failed first attempt should be a learning exercise – not a deal-breaker for the success of the project.

  2. Make obstacles a win-win learning strategy: when faced with an unanticipated risk or event, understand that how you internally perceive risk will impact how you can subconsciously juggle the multiple priorities that are already required to keep you running smoothly – whether you succeed or not. To further create this feeling for ‘calm’ when facing an obstacle for the first time, focus on the value you will extract at a minimum in ‘learning value’. Remember, in the long-run, even the most catastrophic failure can be the most profitable learning exercise.