Headspace: should it be every leader’s strategy?

Written by Investors In People

Leaders make critical decisions every day. These decisions have a sweeping impact across employees, customers and the fortunes of the organisation. Leaders must, therefore, ensure they make good decisions. Good decisions are driven by a sound decision-making process, which is heavily influenced by having – or not having – enough headspace. We tell you what headspace is. Why it’s so important and how you can develop it.

What is it?

Headspace is best defined by asking: what do we feel when we don’t have headspace?

It feels like we are under extreme time and energy pressures and that we don’t have the capacity to do things properly. It feels like we have to make a decision quickly. Because we find the idea of making a decision overwhelming. We want it out of our mind as quickly as possible. We feel tired, irritated and mentally exhausted.

These feelings encourage a poor decision for two reasons: firstly, they provoke quick decision-making because we want the task over and done with. Secondly, they push us towards poor-quality heuristics and decision-making frameworks and increase the chance of us falling prey to cognitive biases.

What happens when we have enough headspace? We feel an abundance of mental energy and mental ‘space.’ We find it easier to consider all evidence concurrently, to park concepts and return to them and to incubate ideas to generate new solutions. The process feels effortless and enjoyable.

5 reasons why leaders need more of it

The information available to consider is staggering

When making a decision, we consider different pieces of information. The more we need to consider, the more tiring the decision, and in recent years, the volume of data available to us has increased dramatically.

Leaders have access to management information that didn’t exist 10 years ago, fuelled by developments in analytics across the people function and beyond. There’s also a colossal increase in external information, facilitated by the internet and social media.

Dealing with larger volumes of information requires leaders to identify relevant information and discard the rest, as well as concurrently hold disparate concepts in the mind. This is challenging without the mental capacity that comes from having enough headspace.

Decisions must be made quicker than ever before

It seems paradoxical to say that headspace helps you stop feeling you need to make a quick decision and then follow it up by saying that decisions actually need to be made more quickly than in the past.

And yet, this is the case. The world moves so fast, due to trends like increasing globalisation and improvements in technology, that decisions have to be made and implemented quickly to keep up with the pace of change.

Although decisions made quickly can be poorer than those made slowly, headspace still improves the quality of the decision-making process, regardless of the actual time constraints, making it a valuable tool when you need to make fast decisions.

Scrutiny of decision-making is increasing

Decision-making used to attract less scrutiny, partly because heroic leadership was the predominant style and partly because there were fewer channels for scrutinising decision-making.

But the working world is now trending towards consultative, psychologically-informed methods of leadership (such as transformational leadership) in which reflection and feedback are natural processes in improving the overall quality of leadership.

At the same time, improved employee voice mechanisms, alongside social media outlets and websites such as Glassdoor, have created new channels specifically designed for scrutinising leadership effectiveness.

Your competitors are probably getting more headspace

Finally, you need to improve your headspace to keep up with competitors. Self-improvement, mindfulness and growth mindset theory are increasingly explored trends in leadership, as is the wider idea of psychological and physical wellbeing. These trends are all concerned with optimising our physiology to become better tomorrow than we are today.

With all these trends coalescing and leaders more likely to exploit them, it’s a good bet that headspace among leaders will improve and therefore leaders will make better decisions. And if it improves leadership capability at your competitors, you need to keep up.

How can leaders develop it?

Our energy levels dictate the way we ‘feel’ in our mind, which of course is the place in which we juggle information and make decisions. By managing our energy effectively, leaders can help secure greater amounts of headspace in order to make better decisions.

Here are some ways that leaders can help develop headspace:

  • Emotional labelling: take steps to understand just how many emotions there are, and then label your emotions more accurately. When we stop resisting our emotions, we rob them of the power to drain us, which helps maintain our energy levels
  • Regular exercise: exercise actually increases energy through a few different mechanisms. One of them – the release of endorphins – also levels out our mental ‘noise,’ giving us more space to think clearly
  • Mindfulness: practicing mindfulness teaches us to accept what we are feeling and experiencing. This reduces the brain energy wasted on rumination and worrying. Some mindfulness techniques, such as gratefulness, may also help generate energy
  • Quality sleep: length of sleep is very important but quality of sleep is equally key. Put your smartphone down early because blue light emitted by the screen stops you generating melatonin, a natural hormone that encourages you to feel sleepy and relaxed

Interested in finding other effective ways to make you a better leader? Read our article on the two types of trust and why leaders must understand both.

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