Decision making: a place where rationality and identity should meet

Throughout our lives we are educated to make rational decisions. What are the costs, what are the benefits, what are the impacts, what is possible? These are relatively easy elements to learn. Unfortunately our experience tells us that things don’t always work out as planned.

Later in life we understand that we need to make value-based decisions. Not on economic value, but using another criteria. Many decisions are not based on rationality but on our identity (Heath and Heath, 2011). It would seem that there is a dynamic tension between the rational/economic side and the identity side of decision making.

For example, people make identity-based decisions on politics , but can also make economic decisions contrary to their ethical principles. Furthermore, people say they will do one thing, but can decide something entirely different when it comes to the crunch (Azjen, 1991).

This is why it is important to keep your rational/emotional/guts radar switched on when making decisions; to be transparent in decision-making. This will convey credibility and maintain our own integrity.


Ajzen, I. (1991) “The theory of planned behavior,” Organizational
Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50 (2): 179–211.

Heath C. and Heath D. (2011) Switch: how to change things when change is hard. Random House, NY


The Head, Heart and Guts of Leadership Character

leader babyAre leaders born or made? This question dominated leadership thinking until the 1940s and, despite the growth in leadership development (particularly since the 1960s and 1970s) is a question that is still frequently asked.

The question (or its answer perhaps) is usually framed in terms of ‘personality’ on one hand and ‘skills and abilities’ on the other. The suggestion is that ‘personality’ is what we are born with, whilst many of our ‘skills and abilities’ can be learned. We can achieve this learning to some degree of effectiveness or another. However , as human beings we have enormously elastic capabilities – our learning is often governed by choice, not just genes.

When I discuss practical leadership – working with people to get things done, I use a simple three-part model – Head, Heart and Guts. An imbalance in one of these three dimensions would make us appear cold, or gushing, or irrational, or inconsistent, or unpredictable, or a steamroller,  or someone who bends in every wind (or worse).

Covey talks about balancing ‘consideration’ with ‘courage’ (Heart versus Guts), but we also know we need to balance our ‘rational’ side with ’emotional’ empathy (Head versus Heart), and we also need to balance Guts with Head! If you want to develop as an effective leader, then your skills in planning and decision-making need to be combined with interpersonal skills and the development of sound judgement.


Covey, S. (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.

Jacobs, C.J. (2009) Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science. Penguin Group Portfolio, NY