Confident Decision-Making for Women Leaders
In this episode, Ankush speaks with Annika Hurwitt about decision-making for women leaders. Some of what they discuss include:
– Why even discuss this as a topic and Annika’s experience of working with women over the past 10-15 years?
– The latest research about the difference between men and women in how they react to being successful at work
– Some case studies of women leaders that Annika has coached around decision-making
– Confidence in decision-making is an innate quality we all have
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[00:00:00.00] Ankush: Welcome back to another episode of the Business Series podcast. Today we’re going to be talking about confident decision making for women leaders and today I’m joined by Annika Hurwitt. Annika is a psychotherapist and coach who works with leaders in an understanding of the mind that leads to optimal mental functioning. Welcome Annika.
[00:00:28.19] Annika: Thank you, I’m very happy to be here with you today Ankush.
[00:00:31.29] Ankush: I’m pleased that you’re joining me and I think this is a really fascinating and very topical subject about women leaders and confident decision making and I know so much in the news and media is around gender equality and women in the workplace, so I think this is going to be a real juicy topic we’re going to be talking about today. So I’m just going to start with, why are we talking about this? Why are we talking about confident decision making in particular for women leaders?
[00:01:01.22] Annika: That’s a great question Ankush, and the reason is, exactly what you’ve just said, that it’s very topical and has been for decades for women leaders, so, I started noticing when I first started coaching women leaders probably 10-15 years ago, that having confidence in their decisions would come up frequently, and it was fascinating to me, and I got kind of curious about it and I have found that since then, I’ve developed a way of helping women leaders gain confidence in their decision making because it’s so frequently an issue. And truth to tell, what I teach people about the mind, about how to have optimal mental functioning, it was my own curiosity about where confident decision making comes from that led me to explore and learn about what it is that I teach.
[00:02:08.13] Ankush: And I know you and I were speaking a few days ago when we were discussing this episode, and you were mentioning some research, which I’d love for you to talk about, because this isn’t just us assuming that women have these problems and we’re trying to create something, but there’s some really fascinating research that’s shown how men and women react differently. Could you talk about that?
[00:02:33.15] Annika: Yes, well actually the research I was referencing is in Sheryl Sandberg’s book, ‘Lean In’, which of course is about women’s leadership, and what we’re talking about today is confident decision making, what she talks about in that book, some of the research she cites is the difference in confidence levels in men and women, so we have to start with confidence and then talk about decision making, if you ask men why they think they have been successful, or gotten a promotion, they’ll usually cite their innate qualities, and their skills and if you ask women, they’ll usually cite hard work and good luck. And in fact when Sheryl Sandberg was elected CEO of Facebook, I believe it was the New York Times, when they wrote about it, they talked about how she got lucky. And I believe there was another, it could have been the New Yorker, somebody there was a rebuttal, because, in fact she had already had a prominent leadership position at Google, she was a Harvard graduate, it wasn’t luck that made her the CEO of Facebook, and so, where does that difference in confidence come from in men and women?
I would say conditioning, that the whole movement of feminism which has had a huge impact in the way women think about themselves, has only been around for maybe 5 decades, and it’s had a huge impact, but when you look at some of the women leaders like Sheryl Sandberg, they were coming into their own in the middle of that movement and it still has this impact on women. So, I believe that confidence it has something to do with the personality that we come in with and I think a lot to do with the messages that we get from people about ourselves and the feedback loop, so, where people get in the zone, their mind naturally becomes present and they experience themselves as confident. They experience a level of mental clarity, and a sense of being able to trust the thinking that shows up. So if you ask people who love to cook they’ll say, “well when I start cooking, I just know what to do,” and they’re confident about it, and people tend to get in the zone in areas in their lives where they feel safe and they have a positive association.
So, if you, let’s say are a man and you try out a job and you get a lot of feedback about your innate qualities and your skills, that kind of creates a feedback loop where you think, I think I could be good at this, and then you get this feedback. If you’re a woman and you’re going in either with that level of confidence or not because you may have picked up on the messages that are still definitely in many cultures, you know, that women are inferior, or don’t have the same level of leadership skills, and then you get into a leadership position, and you’re told it’s because you were lucky, or “it’s so good you worked so hard that you can get there…” You can see that the feedback loop would not lead to confidence building. So, there are ways that people gain confidence, and there are ways that people don’t gain confidence, so, when it comes to decision making, areas of people’s lives again where they get in the zone, they will tend to be confident in their decisions. So, when I coach women leaders, you know, if they’re very confident about their job in general they’ll trust their decisions, but on days when they’re insecure or anxious, they’ll trust their decisions less, and this is where the coaching is very helpful in terms of people, in terms of the women leaders seeing the thinking that is causing the insecurity so that they’re able to get back in the zone.
For people that let’s say have a very positive feedback loop at work around their decisions, women, they become much more confident decision makers, so, I have an example of a woman that I coached at a big company manufacturing global company, I was teaching this group about what it is that makes us more insight prone. She worked at a company that was, as I said, manufacturing, so innovation was essential, is essential at this company for it to survive and thrive and continue to be successful, and she had the highest number of patents at the entire company, even though she’d been there for half as long as the person who had the second most patents, so, in half the time as the next person who happened to be a man, she had created twice as many patents, and I said to her, “how did you do this? How do you do this?” And she said, “when I get into this beautiful feeling, I know that I’m in the zone and that the ideas that come to me are going to tend to be successful, possible lead to patents,” and she said, this woman was from South America, she was very oriented to that feeling aspect of life and she said, “you know it’s like when you taste a really fine wine, you want more of it,” so she said, “I just learned to return to that good feeling, and whenever I do my mind tends to open to the insights that lead to the patents.” So, she had tremendous confidence in her decisions about the patents that she was proposing at this company, and she had this very concrete feedback loop, which is that they were successful patents, and she of course rose in leadership.
Now I have another woman I coached from another global manufacturing company, who, her primary issue, that she wanted coaching for, was her lack of confidence in her decisions. When I questioned her about it, it turned out that she actually does get in the zone at work. She has a gut level knowing of the right decision to make, but because she had no awareness that she could trust that, she never trusted her decisions. So she was tremendously insecure about it, and that was getting in the way of her performance as a leader, because she was insecure at work, and so, in her case, it was really learning, that there are different levels of thinking that we can trust, and that when we experience ourselves in the present, we tend to have mental clarity, research shows that your IQ goes up and the decisions that you make in that very recognisable state of mind, will tend to play out well, and so in her case, simply learning that reinforced a natural innate capacity that she had and had been exercising most of the time, but because of her insecurity and lack of trust, she wouldn’t always go with her decisions, because she wouldn’t know to.
[00:10:41.28] Ankush: I heard a couple of things in there, so, one thing you talked about was positive feedback loops, and having a positive feedback loop at work can really help both men and women to have greater confidence at work, which makes absolute sense, and how there’s a tendency towards women, to have less of those, is what you see, and the second thing you talked about was how you’ve worked with women, and you gave two really great examples there, and how you’ve coached them to trust. What I heard was trust their gut, trust their instincts around making decisions. So, just kind of playing devil’s advocate here, if I’m a woman leader listening to this, or if I lead a team or an organisation with women in there that I want them to be more confident around their decision making, and maybe the structure is not in place, or, maybe coaching’s not available to the level it’s required. What can women do, or leaders do who are listening to this, to take away from this episode around – without going, right I need to now change the structure and make sure I get more positive feedback, I need to now get budget for coaching – these things may not be in their control, but is there anything that people can do in order to help them around decision making?
[00:12:15.12] Annika: Yeah, so you know in the coaching, people learn about the science behind how the mind works. But you can find that on your own, by observing where your mind naturally settles into the present, or where you experience yourself as calm. Because what you’ll notice is that that’s where you start to have mental clarity, this is where, as I mentioned, your IQ’s going to go up. And so you can become, like an anthropologist of your own psychological experience, because you’ll notice that in that state of mind, if you observe the decisions that you make will tend to play out well more often than not. And I want to say a little bit more about that state of mind Ankush, and that is that, this is where the mind goes when we aren’t firing it up with thinking, so it isn’t something that you need to do techniques to achieve, you may experience this state of natural mental presence when you do yoga or meditate, a lot of companies are now bringing in mindfulness to try and help their employees calm down and experience the state of mind, but, I teach people to become observers of their own experience, and if you observe yourself, you’ll notice that your mind is doing this naturally periodically throughout the day.
So whether it’s, it’s any area where you relax and enjoy yourself, it could be cooking, it could be driving, could be working out, could be anything, perhaps you have an art of a craft that you love to pursue. So, for many people these periods in your life are times that people think of as kind of a break from life. If you become an observer you’ll start to realise that those are actually the times when your state of mind is extremely leveraged for decision making more than anything else. I mean the only thing really it’s more leveraged for is enjoying life, and it’s also where we connect with other people. But decision making is so important for women leaders and for all of us, I mean, decisions that we make in our lives every day, have huge impact. So, understanding that when your mind settles itself into the present, or, I mean I remember a man I coached who was a CEO of a company and when I taught him this he said, “Oh I totally understand this this is why I work out every day before I go to work, because that’s where I make all my decisions. That’s where I get my best ideas.” Another male leader that I coached said, “Oh yeah, this is why I love to travel.” Which really surprised me because most businessmen are tired of travelling so much, he said, “that’s where I just let it all go, my mind comes into the present, and then I get my best ideas and I make my most important decisions.” So, it’s a natural capacity, it’s just a question, you see the reason these two last people I cited, who happen to be men, were as successful as they were is because they’d happened upon that, and they used it regularly. So you can begin to simply be an observer of your own experience, an anthropologist and you will see that you have the capacity for very reliable decision making, right there in your own backyard. You just need to become aware of your mind’s capacity to regularly visit a state of mind from which good decisions come.
[00:16:12.13] Ankush: You’re reminding me of a client I was speaking to earlier today, who was getting, I wouldn’t say stressed, she was getting anxious about something in her job. She was saying, “you know, I’m feeling anxious,” and I said, “yeah.” Because, I guess behind what I’m hearing you say is, that when you’re anxious you’re anxious. And doing more thinking around that, you’re not going to think your way to a better decision, you’ll just kind of stir your mind up, and actually the opposite is going to help, it’s coming back to that clarity and that clear mind where, this gentleman you were talking about, found that in travelling, someone else found that in the gym, but it’s doing, or maybe not doing something, but just coming back to that space, and from that place making great decisions. And what I spoke to my client about was, you will come back there, your mind and my mind and everyone else’s mind, we go through these cycles, where sometimes we’re really caught up and sometimes we’re not, and so I guess what I’m hearing you say is, you just look for those moments where you’re not as caught up and from there, make your decisions and when you’re caught up, just know that that’s not the best time to make your decisions.
[00:17:32.18] Annika: Yes, I would say that, like you were saying, to learn this without the coaching, that’s the best way to go. There’s also a 30 minute video on my website that kind of outline the science behind this, so that’s a free resource for people as well.
[00:17:52.13] Ankush: So, just to wrap up here, what’s the one takeaway you want our listeners to leave this show with?
[00:17:58.20] Annika: I would want our listeners to come away knowing that your capacity for confidence and good decision making is innate. It’s built into you, you simply have to discover it, and the state of mind that leads to good decision making, is showing up in your life regularly. You just have to catch onto it.
[00:18:21.08] Ankush: Now if people do want to get hold of you, if they want to check out this 30 minute resource you talked about, how can they do that?
[00:18:28.16] Annika: Okay so my website is: www.annikahurwitt.com, that’s the best way, and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
[00:18:47.05] Ankush: Fantastic, well thank you for joining us today and soldiering through, I know you had a bit of a sore throat, but I appreciate that, that was a fantastic discussion, and I’m looking forward to being back next week with another interviewee, and another topic relevant to business. Thank you.
[00:00:02.23] Annika: Thank you.