Inability to make decisions is one of the principal reasons executives fail. Deficiency in decision-making ranks much higher than lack of specific knowledge or technical know-how as an indicator of leadership failure.
Successful people make the right decisions early and manage them daily. In this edition of Leadership Wired, we`ll break down those components by exploring the criteria for making solid decisions and by reinforcing the need to properly manage them day by day.
Making Good Decisions
As a leader, multiple decisions swirl around you and each clamors for time and attention. The first step in successful decision-making is to prioritize the many decisions in front of you. Give yourself time to brainstorm and make a list of each decision you presently face. When you have identified an exhaustive list of decisions, take the following steps to separate the big decisions from the minor ones:
Ask yourself, €œWhich decisions on your list will produce the highest payoff? Evaluate each in terms of your investment in time, resources, and energy. On a scale of 1 to 3, rate each item on your list as follows:
1 = Most important
2 = Somewhat important
3 = Least important
Consider Your Goals
Ask yourself, €œWhich decisions are essential to my goals? To answer this question, you may need to review your primary job responsibilities and remind yourself of the critical success factors driving your performance. Applying the same 1-to-3 scale, rate each decision based on its relevance to your goals.
At this point, every item in your log should have two rankings€”one for potential payoff and one for alignment with your goals. Add the numbers together. Highlight all entries totaling 2 or 3. These matters clearly require attention.
Focus on the remaining decisions and ask yourself, €œWhich of these issues must be handled by me and no one else? More than likely, you`ll determine that many of them can be delegated to others to lighten your load.
Decision Making Traps
Too often, leaders fall into traps causing them to make faulty decisions. They are blind to flaws in their methodology or gaps in their thinking. Here are specific pitfalls that can sabotage your efforts to express yourself wisely and decisively:
If you dread the finality of taking a stand or calling the shots, you may be tempted to put off the decision. You can fall prey to dozens of avoidance mechanisms to rationalize your unwillingness to decide, including:
- Absence of urgency. €œWe`ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
- Uncertainty. €œIt could go either way. Since I`m not sure, I`ll reflect on it for a while.
- Emotional difficulty. €œIt`s a lose-lose proposition, and someone will be hurt regardless of the decision. Why not postpone the damage as long as possible?
If any of these comments sound familiar, your challenge is to condense the time frame in which you make your decision. Although you may successfully con yourself into believing that €œit can wait, a cloud of worry will drift over you until you take the initiative to remove it.
Exceptionally hard decisions can deplete your energy to the point at which you finally cave in. If you mentally crumble and degenerate into negative thinking, you`ll magnify the problem to the point where it can haunt you.
Rather than surrender, break a big decision into its components. Isolate particular aspects of the issue, and address the segments bit by bit.
Hiding Behind Information
Many managers with exacting standards tend to crave unending stacks of data before rendering a decision. The more facts and figures they accumulate, the more they require before feeling ready to decide. Be willing to forge ahead when the results of the decision will be positive€”even if they won`t be perfect.
The DNA of Good Decision-Making
Evidence – Specific facts that can be independently verified.
- Search for new information or insight which may affect the decision.
- Probe the basis of your belief. We make decisions based upon our assumptions, but those assumptions are oftentimes at variance with reality.
- Take a hard look at your areas of expertise, and honestly assess the boundaries of your knowledge. Watch for overconfidence in yourself and others when you venture outside those limits.
- Test your opinions by looking for information that challenges your beliefs rather than looking for information that supports your opinions.
Observation – Direct experience or understanding of an issue.
- Conceptualize. Before deciding, picture the expected outcomes of your decision and mentally track the ramifications of your chosen course of action.
- Search for examples. Locate organizations that have faced a similar decision. Evaluate their experiences to better prepare for your own decision.
- Do a test-run. When time allows, launch and assess a pilot project before fully committing yourself.
Feedback – Impressions gleaned from asking others for input about a decision.
- The most effective decisions flow from your ability to ask the right person the right question at the right time.
- As long as you know where to search for the relevant information – and can verify the accuracy of what you learn – you will be well positioned to see all sides of an issue and make a sensible judgment.
Managing Good Decisions
The first ingredient of success€”making good decisions€”has no real value without the second, which is practicing daily discipline. Look at our society. Everyone wants to be thin, but nobody wants to diet. Everyone wants to live long, but few will exercise. Everybody wants money, yet seldom will anyone budget or control their spending.
Most people want to avoid pain, and discipline is usually painful. What we fail to understand is that there are two kinds of pain: the pain of self-discipline and the pain of regret. We avoid the pain of self-discipline because we confront it every day. Meanwhile, the pain of regret goes unnoticed for days, months, and years, but when it comes, it marks us with the profoundest disappointment.
Successful people conquer their feelings of instant gratification and form habits of daily discipline. They realize that the pain of self-discipline is momentary, while its payoff yields long-lasting rewards.
Good Decisions €“ Daily Discipline = A Plan without a Payoff
Daily Discipline €“ Good Decisions = Regimentation without Reward
Good Decisions + Daily Discipline = A Masterpiece of Potential