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Stressed-out Decisions Can Reap Stressful Consequences

An executive recently said to me, “I feel like I’m making big decisions while walking in molasses.”

He’s mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted, working from a depth of fatigue that can’t be cured by a good night’s sleep. Ever felt the same way?

All of us experience periods when we don’t feel as internally well-resourced to handle the complexities and demands we find ourselves in. No one is immune from this aspect of being human. Yet, too often, we’re operating from states of prolonged distraction, disconnection, and depletion.

Feeling dysregulated at times is normal, yet the research intersecting wellbeing and leadership emphasizes that leading while chronically overstressed can have damaging consequences to the decisions we make, impacting our results, our lives, and the lives of others.

For example, scientists at Stanford University’s School of Medicine find that physician burnout may be the source of more medical errors than unsafe medical workplace conditions; plus, it’s linked to lower quality of patient care, lower patient satisfaction, and higher physician turnover. The diminished wellbeing of judges can erode courtroom decorum and the decisions made, harming the people served and the public’s trust and confidence in the judicial system.

In sports, high anxiety, burnout, and depression of elite coaches can weaken their coaching performance, as well as impair the mental health and competitiveness of their athletes. Finally, research shows that when anxiety is pervasive in an organization, people feel more threatened at work, leading to a potential rise in self-interested, unethical behaviors.


Focusing on your physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and cognitive wellbeing—your capacity to thrive as leader and whole person—can not only generate a more fulfilling life, but also improve judgments and decisions for you and your team.

How? Here are a few ways:

  • When you embrace wellness habits, such as mindful movement, breath, eating, and rest, to honor your circadian rhythm and effectively fuel your day, you’re naturally more resourced to handle stressful situations. When confronted with a major decision, for instance, your healthy habits can enable you to maintain the mental clarity, emotional balance, and sustained energy you need for more reasoned and strategic decision-making.
  • When you bring a regular practice of mindfulness and stress-reduction techniques into your team meetings, the team is better equipped to approach interpersonal conflicts with calmness, non-judgment, and empathy. Plus, they’re more apt to make decisions that prioritize team wellbeing, cohesion, and morale.
  • When you intentionally build wellbeing into your connections with stakeholders (from supervisors to peers to employees to customers to partners), those relationships are more apt to maximize the potential of people, individually and together. Through your authentic wellbeing, you are fostering a social environment that breaks down siloes, reinforces shared decision-making, and creates more value for everyone.


Organizationally, we must address the systemic factors that limit people from making decisions with an inner balance and wellbeing. A culture of distrust, discriminatory practices, unnecessarily time-consuming work processes, the pace of work, unsustainable workloads, and ineffective leadership are but a few of these factors. If we’re striving for decisions that positively impact the health of our organizations, people, and the planet, it’s imperative to build cultures where thriving is the norm.

You can begin this journey personally by reflecting on how your state of being influences your decisions. To what extent are you thriving in life and work today? And how is that shaping how you perceive the people and tasks in your care and the judgments you make about them?

There isn’t a right or wrong to these questions. Instead, consider the insights you gain as part of a journey of learning and growth as a leader and human being.

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