How your brain affects your leadership decisions

Fuzzy? Hard to make decisions? Impacting on your leadership ability.

It’s your amygadala that is responsible. That tiny blob of the medial temporal lobe, just in front of the hipppocampus. After two years of Covid and disrupted screen, home and hybrid work your amygdala is having a great time mucking around with your decision making. This is a neurogical impact not just stress.

The amygdala, unchecked by the prefrontal cortex, is sort of the bad guy. It is our ancient protective reaction to danger. It is responsible for the perception of emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness, as well as the controlling of aggression. Neurologically we have emotions about stuff, THEN we decide on a course of action.  Usually this below our level of awareness.

Having feelings is good. Moderating them is essential for good leadership decision making.

The prefrontal cortex is the good guy, and controls important cognitive skills such as emotional expression, problem-solving, memory, language, judgment, and sexual behaviours. It is the social control panel for your personality and your communication. The amygdala can so easily dominate in any new or challenging situation, especially during a pandemic.

The amygdala is basically a neurological mouse trap. Usually, the trap is very finely tuned, so that any slight intrusion to get to the cheese sets off the trap instantly and it snaps. This is the fight or flight response. The panic buying of toilet rolls during early COVID-19 is a demonstration of how our amygdala still reacts today.

In times of stress, you experience a fight or flight reaction, unless your amygdala is moderated by the prefrontal cortex.

How not to trigger the amygdala mousetrap when making decisions.

Here are the four key ways you can spot when your amygdala is taking over your leadership decision making:


– you like things that you can process quickly, without having to struggle to understand what is happening. This isn’t an intelligence issue. Everyone gets stressed when things become too complicated. When it comes to leadership, we do not like complex tasks or demanding people.

Beware of a desire to over-simplify matters.


– you want a quick reaction time, especially with stressful and uncomfortable situations. The amygdala wants a quick-fix. In the context of leadership, this means you prefer short-term solutions to long-term strategies.

Assess whether the matter needs a quick decision or a more strategic approach.


– people do everything to maintain safety and avoid threat. Any perceived threat is bad, so the default position is to avoid difficult conversations. You protect yourself first and foremost. In a leadership situation, this means your decision-making prioritises safety over solutions.

This is risk-averse leadership. Learn how to have difficult conversations, and take significant but safe risks.
“Everyone has a ‘risk muscle.’ You keep it in shape by trying new things. If you don’t, it atrophies,”  Roger von Oech.


– people manage small numbers better than large. We don’t like groups bigger than eight, and we don’t like calculus. Break up your decisions into smaller chunks. Set priorities.

So, in summary:

  • fuzzy brain decision making is real and normal right now
  • blame your amygdala
  • beware of oversimplifying
  • slow down
  • take small bites
  • value yourself

Our wonderful leader of the year, Ukrainian President, Volodomyr Zelensky, said, “Hang your kids’ photos in your office and look at them each time you are making a decision.”

Read more about the amygdala and leadership in my latest leadership book, Looking Up Looking In.

Please make a decision to tell me how you went.