Communications consultant Shelley Row discusses her simple approach to wise decision making. Think. Feel. Act.

An aging workforce, supply chain disruptions, rising costs. It’s all in a day’s work for today’s transportation professionals. As trade publications teem with advice on attracting and retaining talent, most of the ideas, such as signing bonuses, truck leasing deals, and promises of “being home for dinner,” are either short-term solutions or none at all. 

One topic that doesn’t get much attention is the role leadership plays in attracting and retaining talent.

Communications consultant Shelley Row, founder and CEO of Blue Fjord Leaders, knows strong leadership. She’s made a career of training managers how to delegate, empathize, and make difficult decisions. As Row says, “insightful leadership requires seeing beyond the data.”

‘Insightful leadership’ defined

Having advised professionals in fleet management and logistics, Row has seen managers rely heavily on data to inform their opinions. While data is vital to running a safe, profitable business, relying on data exclusively comes at the expense of intuition.

“Great leaders bring thinking and feeling together into informed decision making,” Row observes. “That’s what insightful leadership is about.”

There’s an art to insightful leadership, and Row relies on her training at the NeuroLeadership Institute to explain how it’s done. She’s honed her program into a simple process: Think, Seek Input, Feel, and Act.

1. Think

To make informed, timely decisions, safety managers should access all the data available. Problem is, the brain’s implicit biases affect a manager’s perception of data. “It’s really important for safety managers to ask themselves, ‘‘Am I only seeing the data I want to see? Could other data show another perspective?’” Row says.

Personal biases cause people to gravitate toward innate conclusions. Perhaps a driving coach has a tense relationship with a particular driver. Maybe it’s an employee who needs frequent coaching or has a short attention span. In a situation like that, the driving coach could see a video clip of the driver reaching for a cell phone at the wheel and feel frustrated. 

However, there may be another driver whom the coach knows better, one who has a good sense of humor. If that driver reaches for the cell phone in the video clip, the coach might adopt a more positive tone. 

It’s called “the halo effect.” According to the website Simply Psychology, “the halo effect refers to the tendency to allow one specific trait to positively influence our judgment of their other related traits.”

For example, if a safety manager considers a driver to be friendly, the manager will automatically assume the driver practices safe habits, even though the driver may not have safe habits at all.

The halo effect also impacts the way a safety manager interprets dash cam data. That’s why it’s important for safety managers to ensure they’re not falling victim to natural biases while watching dash cam video clips or coaching a driver. Before having conversations with drivers, coaches should ask themselves “gut check” questions, such as “Am I only seeing the data I want to see?”

2. Seek outside input

Seeking outside input is actually another form of thinking. “It’s thinking with the insight of other people,” Row explains. Consulting others is especially useful when a safety manager must make a tough decision, such as investing in a safety solution or letting a driver go. If a fleet has a three-strikes policy and a particular driver is about to make their third strike, the safety manager might inform their viewpoint by discussing it with another trusted manager. 

“The key is to consult someone who isn’t just going to tell you what you want to hear,” Row says. “Bias can creep in here as well, so safety managers should ask themselves, ‘Am I only talking to the people who I like? ‘Am I only seeking input from people who agree with me?’”

Groupthink is more prevalent today because of the way it spreads on social media. Anyone, including safety managers, can design personal information sources so that they’re only hearing opinions that validate their own. 

“It’s important to listen to people with a different perspective,” Row says. “In one of the programs I do at Blue Fjord Leaders, we discuss talking to people you know and trust, then talking to the person who always has a different perspective — that person who’s a little annoying because they always see it differently.”

Consider asking them:

  • How do you view this situation?
  • If you were making this decision, how would you approach it?
  • What factors would you take into account?

“Questions like these aren’t the same as asking, ‘What would you do?’” Row observes. “Instead, they help safety managers overcome their own biases. By broadening the network of people consulted, managers can broaden their perspective. It increases their likelihood of making the wisest choice, and it could increase the likelihood of getting buy-in from a broader set of stakeholders.”

3. Feel

Making the best decision means using data and understanding intuition. “Gut feelings are actually wisdom coming from the right side of the brain, the area responsible for attention, memory, reasoning, and problem solving,” Row says. “A gut feeling can cause us to hold back on a decision without understanding why. People get confused. They get ‘analysis paralysis.’ When that happens, they tend to seek out more data, but it’s actually a gut feeling making them hesitate.”

Nagging feelings happen when a situation doesn’t meet a manager’s expectations. “Dash cams in commercial vehicles, for example, may go against one’s past experience,” Row says. “An operations manager may have the mindset, ‘We’ve never had dash cams before, so why are we implementing them now?’ Just because it goes against past experience doesn’t mean the past experience is right. It means we should ask ourselves, ‘Is my past experience relevant to the future?’”

Row advises managers to work through fear by understanding the real issue. “Ask yourself, ‘What’s bothering me about this decision? What’s not sitting right?’ The brain will answer.” 

4. Act

Give the brain some quiet time, and it will merge thinking with feeling. That’s why it’s important to take a “brain break,” Row says. “Sleep on it, mow the lawn, watch TV. Do something that allows the mind to wander. The brain will put the pieces together and help you make a decision that makes sense and feels right.”

After taking a break, you may be surprised to discover that the brain merges data and emotion to make a wiser decision.

Row recalls the words of a client who’s had to make tough decisions. “The nagging feeling goes away when you make the right decision.”