Cognitive Style and Managerial Decision-Making

Top managers’ decisions reflect their values and mindsets. Because researchers cannot directly examine managerial decision making, many researchers have relied on proxies such as functional background and years of experience. However, Hough examined the links between cognitive style and decision quality, decisiveness, and perceived effectiveness.

Cognitive style reflects “how,” rather than “how well,” we perceive and judge information. It emphasizes individual approaches to decision making rather than cognitive ability. One of the most widely known measures of cognitive style is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

The theory underlying the MBTI suggests that individuals exhibit preferences in terms of their orientation toward the world outside themselves (extraversion vs. introversion), their perceptual processes (sensing vs. intuition), and their decision processes (thinking vs. feeling). While the MBTI also measure how people organize their thoughts, this study will focus on orientation, perceptual processing and decision processes.

Based on strategic decision made by 749 senior managers and executives, Hough concluded that the use of associative, low-effort heuristics based on impersonal information allowed iNtuiting/Thinking (NT) managers to make higher quality strategic decisions than managers with other styles. NT managers relied on their intuition to rapidly incorporate logical conclusions into choices, resulting in quicker and more decisions in a given period. Thus, the best strategic decision makers exhibit both intuitive and analytic reasoning in the development of bold, ingenious actions.

In contrast, Sensing/Feeling types had both the lowest number of decisions and the lowest perceived effectiveness of all styles. This may due to the feeling type’s propensity to seek information from human interaction. Taking into account the subjective and emotional values of numerous others can be a more time-consuming process than using logical analysis. This brings into question calls to include more affiliative leadership characteristics in top management teams where situations often require the need for decisive and timely action. While people skills may have a place in strategic decision-making, it appears that the stylistic preferences of Feeling managers have a negative impact on decision speed and decision quality.

With respect to perceptions held by colleagues, decision makers felt that Thinkers had a greater ability to get things done than did managers with Feeling preferences. The tendency for Feelers to consult with various stakeholders concerning their feelings and values may lead others to conclude that Feelers are making subjective, time-consuming decisions. Such transparency in the decision process may lead some to conclude that feeling type’s decision-making is relatively ineffective.

Findings also indicated that others perceived Extraverted managers as having a “ability to get things done,” than they did Introverted managers. However, in fact, the Extraverts were no more decisive than the Introverts.

These findings clearly demonstrate that cognitive style not only influences actual decision outcomes but it also influences how others perceive decision performance. Practically speaking, organizations should either ensure that managers with an NT style are involved in strategic decision making, provide training in NT approaches to decision making, and/or use decision processes that encourage NT behavior.