Women And Leadership: Ditching Autopilot for the Win

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  • 5 mins read

Always in motion, women in leadership roles are usually tackling endless agenda items on a very long to do list. In our extremely fast paced lives, most of us operate on autopilot mode. Our days fly by. Our lives are so busy that we totally forget to check in with ourselves. It’s easy to slip into autopilot mode, but is that truly how we want to lead ourselves and others?

Have you ever stopped to wonder how you got here?

I have thought a lot about autopilot mode and the negative impact of operating this way exclusively. It can come at a very high cost especially for women in leadership roles. Learning why, when and how to turn it off, has a huge payoff.

Understanding Autopilot Mode

Autopilot mode is our brain’s default system—it is a built in tool that allows us to do things automatically and efficiently, without the need for constant conscious effort to function. When you walk, there’s no need to consciously instruct yourself to move one foot in front of the other. This helps us to make snap decisions in everyday life.

Some of those mindless decisions are insignificant. But others have a significant impact over time, on our professional, and personal, lives.

It is extraordinary how much of the day we spend in this way.

Our brain’s autopilot mode is meant to give us more time and energy to devote to more important tasks and to prevent overload. How’s that working out for most of us? Not so well. We aren’t taking advantage of it, if we never look up.

The cost to us is that autopilot mode completely bypasses conscious choice and decision making.


“Autopilot is a growing problem,” says Dr. Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness. “It has gone from being an evolutionary protection mechanism that stopped our brains overloading, to our default mode of operating whereby we sleep-walk into our choices. It has seeped into more and more areas of our lives and relationships making us feel out of control.”

So, how can we stop sleep-walking through our choices? Here are three easy steps you can take to shut your autopilot mode off and shift gears into conscious decision-making:

1. Pause and Notice. Dr.Williamson says when people are running on autopilot, they feel trapped by their obligations and routines as if they are living somebody else’s life.

Sound familiar?

“The simple step of encouraging people to notice their autopilot behaviors is crucial,” says Dr. Williamson, “because then you’ve begun the journey towards changing your habits and making more conscious choices.”

Yes, the brain is lazy—it prefers the autopilot setting. No problem! We can train our minds to pause and notice we are operating this way and then switch it off.

2. Ask yourself the right questions. Why am I doing this? Is this what I want to be doing?

In asking these simple questions we step out of autopilot and shift into the present moment. We can see our own autonomy. This is incredibly powerful—these questions connect us to our values and allow us to see, and intentionally make, choices. WOOHOO! We don’t actually have to stay stuck on a treadmill of repetitive behavior any longer. This is leadership from the inside out!

3. Switch on your intentional thinking mode. Thank goodness, our beautiful brains have another operating system. WHEW! Think of it as a more rational and intentional thinking system that is there to help us manage more complex things like critical thinking, problem solving and learning.

It’s not that our intentional thinking mode is better than autopilot.

Your power lies in choosing when to leave autopilot on and when to deliberately turn it off.


Turning off the autopilot mode has SO MANY tangible benefits for women leaders, including:

Boosted Creativity and Innovation: Turning off autopilot encourages fresh ideas, new possibilities and innovative solutions.

Sharper Decision-Making Skills: Women leaders develop stronger decision-making abilities by making conscious choices.

Improved Adaptability: Leaders become more flexible and resilient in navigating challenges and changes.

Power, Purpose and Results: Taking control of actions aligns leaders with their values and goals, driving real progress to desired outcomes.


We each have our own unique autopilot mode that impacts our decisions, and us, in different ways. The key takeaway is to pause, notice what mode you are in and make a conscious choice. That is your power and there is nothing better than that!

So many of my clients are doing this work with me and seeing the ginormous benefits of it.

If you’d like to talk more about how coaching teaches you how to leave autopilot mode behind so that you start leading yourself, and others, more consciously, I’m always here to help.