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Want to Be a Strong Leader? First You Need This 1 Weakness

Can impulsivity make you a better leader?

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BY Mithu Storoni - 07 Jun 2018

Want to Be a Strong Leader? First You Need This 1 Weakness

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

You're about to enter the board room to pitch your product. Your pitch is a test in leadership as you lead your investors along your entrepreneurial vision.

What kind of leader do your investors want you to be? Cautious and deliberative, so you'll be a safe bet - or bold and unrehearsed, led by instinct, not reason?

According to Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winning author of Thinking Fast and Slow, if you want people to pick you as a leader, go for the second option.

Placing their political implications aside, Kahneman's words suggest that while impulsive decision-making is a "weakness" when you're climbing up the ladder, the rules somehow change once you reach the top.

Why do we find fast thinking leaders so enticing? And what if you're not good at thinking on your feet -- can you achieve the same effect without needing to change your style?

Here are five reasons why fast thinkers win our trust and five ways to achieve the same effect without having to think fast.

1. Fast thinkers look like they know what they're doing.

If a patient is rushed into the ER with a gunshot wound, you wouldn't trust a physician who has to open his textbook and carefully think through what must be done. You use the physician's decision-making speed as a reflection of their ability, subconsciously attributing experience and skill to people who operate in fast-thinking mode, without checking if they really are experienced or skilled.

If you're not a fast thinker: If you can't create an illusion of expertise, work on creating the reality. Actual experience and skill don't depend on your thinking speed, they depend on your capacity for hard work.

Rehearse projections, turnover, costs and other details until you can recite them in your sleep. You'll answer your investors' questions without needing to think about the answer even if you're usually a slow thinker.

2. Fast thinkers look charismatic.

A 2015 study titled "Quick Thinkers Are Smooth Talkers" found people who answered questions quickly were perceived as more charismatic than those who took their time, independent of IQ and general knowledge.

Being quick on your feet makes you seem more charismatic.

If you're not a fast thinker: Fast thinking isn't the only route toward charisma. John Antonakis, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Lausanne, boils charisma down to three things. If you curate your presentation with these in mind, you'll seem more charismatic even if you're a slow-thinker:

  1. Framing what you want to say in metaphors and stories.
  2. Resonating with the sentiments of your audience by tapping into their dreams and goals.
  3. Using tactics like rhetorical puzzles and contrasts that make your audience sit up and think, and using animation in your voice and gestures.

3. Fast thinkers look like they know something you don't.

You need to believe your leader will succeed where you would fail, because they have something you don't. While anyone can gain access to knowledge, intuition is a talent- it can't be summoned on command. Fast thinkers look as if their spontaneity is driven by innate intuition.

If you're not a fast thinker: Intuition happens when you sense coherence in an idea that you can't quite put into words.

It is thought to sprout from a catalogue of past experiences and "implicit learning", when you've assimilated knowledge without being aware, so stocking up on experience may help your intuitive skills.

Lingering over your thoughts in a state of emotional calm may encourage a mental climate of intuitive decision-making, so getting better at regulating your emotions will help, too.

4. Fast thinkers look comfortable under pressure.

A stress reaction can trigger one of three behavioural responses, fight, flight or freeze. You want your leader to be brave. Being good at thinking fast makes a leader look like they won't freeze under pressure.

If you're not a fast thinker: If you can't convince your investors with your words, convince them with your actions. A relaxed, fluid posture, steady voice, slow pace of speaking and slow rate of breathing will help to create an illusion of perfect self-control, even if you're not feeling calm inside.

5. Fast thinkers look authentic.

Your investors want to know what you really think and not what you want them to think you think. If you speak without thinking too much, you offer them a sneak peak into your raw, unfiltered thoughts. The faster you answer their questions, the less processed and more authentic your answers are likely to be.

If you're not a fast thinker: There are other ways to manufacture authenticity. Use eye contact, honesty and openness.

Although showing too much weakness can backfire, small doses of vulnerability can make you appear more authentic, so reveal a few disappointments and concerns as well as discussing successes and goals. Your investors may have gone through similar hurdles themselves, so they will see authenticity in your vulnerability.

Decision-making operates on a speed-accuracy trade-off because the brain collects evidence before any decision is made. It needs less time to do this for some decisions than it does for others, but curtailing its evidence-gathering time compromises the quality of its evidence, which affects accuracy.

There is a line between appearing to be a strong leader and being a strong leader. A strong leader knows how to play the speed-accuracy threshold, so accuracy is never compromised.

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