Are You Leading on Autopilot?

I read somewhere that 80% of the time, we’re operating on autopilot. Yet we expect ourselves to “do great things.”

I’ll bet that the only people who accomplish great things while on autopilot are basketball superstars. Natural athletes and champions have so much talent and practice so much, that they react instinctively. At least, it looks that way.

For the rest of us, however, we can’t afford to coast. It’s not really wise to manage people and lead companies while on autopilot. We can’t lead well based on habits that tell us to just do the same things over again.

Or, as Marshall Goldsmith titled his book, “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There.

And yet, the brain wants to conserve energy by going onto autopilot. In fact, new research from brain science is telling us that up to 95% of our decisions are heavily influenced by the subconscious mind. That’s a little scary to think that budget decisions aren’t always rationally thought out.

How do we counteract the tendency of the brain to slide into habitual thinking? Well, according to experts, we never give up free choice and will. Our thinking brains contribute logic and reason, and allow us to wisely plan, foresee consequences and choose in spite of (or along with) influences from emotions and drives.

I can think of two things that help counterbalance the influences of autopilot habits:

  1. Clarity of values and vision
  2. Ability to question, listen and observe

In the first case, if I am clearly holding in mind my desire for a better future and know what that looks like in terms of behaviors, then I’m able to act in accordance. I can be congruent. I know what I need to do and anything off course won’t feel right.

Secondly, if I’m open to asking others questions and listening to them, I have checks and balances. If I’m observing myself and asking others for their opinions and ideas, then I have safeguards against becoming too entrenched in habitual thinking.

What do you do to stay off autopilot?

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