“That was the most emotional decision I ever had to make.”

“I was so caught up in the emotion of the moment I had trouble thinking clearly.”

“I was so angry when she said that to me I just reacted.”

“Whenever I have to make an important decision, I make sure I am in a positive state of mind.”


Emotions play an important role in our decisions. We all made decisions in the “heat of the moment” that would have been different had the emotions not been running so high. A lack of emotion can be just as troublesome, because you are not engaged. Pick a situation in the recent past where emotions drove a decision. Hold that event in your head as you continue to read.


If you are a leader, your life revolves around decisions that swirl with emotion. Everyone is trying to get you to make the decision that will support their position. Those decisions are tied to a lot of emotion, for you or those your decision affects.


Consider these two principles as top priorities regarding emotions impacting decisions:

  • Know yourself
  • Seek to understand


In a sentence, be self- aware, other-aware, and situationally aware. If you are aware that emotions are having an influence on your behavior you are on the right path. It will allow you to make them part of the solution.


Principle 1: Know Yourself

What triggers emotions in you? How much does your mood change based on events, both positive and negative? Is there a behavior or occurrence of an event that totally hijacks your consciousness?


We all experienced an individual who flies off the handle with the delivery of bad news. How about the giddy coworker who cannot refocus after a positive event? Ever had the pleasure of working with the colleague who cannot decide because they are so overwhelmed? Emotions are driving decisions.


Identify the type of events that affect you, set you off or cause you to isolate yourself. That is the trigger. You know what it is because it gives you that jolt of adrenalin, changes your heart rate, and narrows your thinking. You are in a thinking tunnel.


Next, assess your reaction and how you perform once triggered. There is a spectrum of being triggered. Think about being triggered on the angry scale. That can go from being mildly annoyed to being table flipping mad. Sadness, joy, or being stressed all have a spectrum.


Principle 2: Seek to Understand.

Seek to understand what? Consider the adrenalin jolt, take a moment before acting and seek to:


-Understand the cause of the jolt.

What is driving your emotions?

-Understand the reality of the situation.

Was there a valid cause for the jolt?

How is it affecting you?

-Understand the emotions of others.

What are others feeling and why?

-Understand how to positively use emotions in the situation.

How can you use emotions, yours and others, to positively impact the situation?



Use the personal event you recollected at the start of this exercise to evaluate the two principles.

How would your actions have changed if you had known your triggers? Knowing your triggers allows you to plan for those type events.

How would your actions have changed if you sought to understand?

Pausing for a moment when triggered and asking a few simple questions can defuse a tense situation and allow for reasonable effective decisions. It pushes your mind into a problem-solving mode rather than the emotional react mode.

Consider using the two principles to examine several decisions you made while emotionally triggered. Determine if they would have created a different decision or a decision making process.

Who made that decision? That is the most ridiculous approach to solving that problem I have ever seen!”

“I don’t agree however, I understand where she is coming from.”

“Not the way I would have done it.”

“I would have made the same decision.”

Do any of the above quotes sound familiar. To me they do and they all center around decision making, one of the top functions of every leader. If it is a top function, should it have some degree of process to it?

What is your decision-making process? Can you write three factors you consider on every decision. I think it’s worth spending some time thinking about what should be considered.

Whatever your process, I believe the following three considerations should be deliberately assessed in every decision.

  1. Emotion
  2. Bias
  3. Logic

These three elements rise to the top because they are part of every decision consciously or subconsciously. Let’s talk about how.

Emotion: everyone reacts with a degree of emotion when decisions impact their values. Those decisions that align with one’s values, make them happy, those not aligned bring out negative emotions.

Bias: we all have them based on our personal experiences and they influence our thinking. Being alert and sensitive to others and our own biases can serve leaders well.

Logic: is the reasoning process used to assess information, data, and other factors to make a decision. Being cognizant of our own as well as others processes will also serve leaders well.


Let’s look at a couple of examples and see how the three elements, emotion, bias, and logic impact a decision. First recall a decision you have recently made or been part of. Keep the decision in your head as we assess two examples.

The Family Holiday Decision

Where and how to celebrate the holidays this year? With COVID-19 impacting every facet of life what decision did you make on holiday plans. If traditions in your circle include large family gatherings, there may have been discussions on how to proceed this year. It is likely the participants had a wide range of input and some with emotions. The emotional input came from those passionate about what they believe is the right thing to do.  Maintaining tradition, don’t risk spreading the virus, other options, etc.

Some have bias for doing all they can to be together and taking maximum precautions. Others are risk adverse. No way are they traveling even if everyone is following the CDC guidance.

Logically each member has come to their conclusion based on their process of data collection, assessment, and reasoned thought. Do you know what the process was?

Going Back to Work in the Office

Similar to the Holiday decision. The emotions will come from alignment or misalignment with one’s values. Some folks have a bias for operating together. Others prefer remote work. Yet others have bias for trusting or mistrusting the government guidance on protocols to return to an in-person workplace. The amount of research and data sources all provide the logic that informed and produced an individual’s decision.

Your Example

In the example you recalled at the beginning of this exercise, how did emotion, bias, and logic play into your decision?

 So What?

The elements of emotion, bias, and logic impact how leaders make decisions and the reaction to their decisions.Effective leaders make a positive impact.

 As a leader, if you ignore to consider the three elements within you and those you impact, you may limit your positive impact.


Using the example at the beginning of this exercise, in your mind place yourself in a room with those affected by your decision. What if you leaned back and considered the following?

  • How are my emotions, biases, and logic affecting my decision?
  • How are the emotions, biases, and logic of each person in this room affecting their decision?

Might this change your approach to the decision you are about to make? For me, it may or may not change my decision. It does add to my analysis, broadens my perspective and most importantly, it adds to how I present my decision. This creates clarity for me and those I lead.

Does the American public believe it is someone else’s responsibility to assertively challenge actions they witness that are clearly wrong?

It is unconscionable that George Floyd was killed in broad daylight by a Minneapolis, Minnesota Police Officer while others watched. Several individuals spoke up but no one took on the responsibility to intervene forcefully. Not one of the other officers or a bystander took convincing action to challenge what they were witnessing or call for assistance. And someone recorded a video of the event as evidence of wrong doing. How can that happen?

What would the outcome have been if one person took decisive action?

Science tells us if one person broke from conformity with inactive bystanders and acted, an overwhelming majority would have likely joined in. Just one person. So how did we get to this place in our country that we are unwilling to vigorously confront a wrong? Do we value comfort so much that we remain paralyzed when others are being mortally harmed?

We have acted timidly and allowed injustices to go unchecked and become the norm.

Change has to happen on a large scale however, that change starts at the micro and local level. This is a culture change that has to start with individuals. Person to person, group to group.

What can you do?

Be the voice and example of change and start with the small things. If you hear racist comments or see unfair treatment that makes you uncomfortable. BE THE ONE WHO SAYS OR DOES SOMETHING. Be the catalyst of change.

The days of living by the advice: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it” or “Mind your own business and don’t get involved” have not served us well. Tactful truthfulness should be the cultural norm. Brené Brown, author and researcher says that being clear is kind; be clear in your communication and boundaries. When a boundary is crossed it needs to be known.

As a leader what have you done to make it easier for others to speak up or act in your organization? When individuals do speak or act, are they appreciated, acknowledged, or scorned? What have you done to improve the culture of equality around you? You may see individuals particularly African Americans unusually quiet, reserved, and not fully engaged in the workplace. Why? To get that perspective you have to ask and listen.

Be the one person that makes the difference. Reach out to each member of your team and see how they are doing. Create the space to hear what is going on in their lives. Listen to them. Help make your community inclusive and accepting. Reach out to someone new and make one new connection in your community. Demand equality and help be the change that makes it happen.

It only takes one person to make a difference.