A leader’s impact, career, reputation and legacy are all determined by the decisions he or she makes. Each week, I respond to a question I’ve received from another leader. Today’s question: How do you make better decisions?
Have you given much thought to this question? My hunch is that you and I may not think enough about how we make decisions. If you’ve been leading long, it can become instinctive or reflexive. You just do it – no thought required. Some would label this unconsciously competent. Isn’t that what you want? To be able to respond instinctively without thinking.
You might think the same thing about world-class athletes. Surely, they don’t think about what they do – as Nike advocates, they Just Do it! Right? Wrong. The very best athletes are the best students in their chosen field. Tiger and Phil from the world of golf, Aaron Rogers and Payton Manning from the NFL, Lebron James from the NBA, and the list could go on and on. Athletes at the top of their game are students of HOW they do what they do. They watch the video over and over again to sharpen their skills.
When it comes to decision-making, some thoughtful time invested can have the same effect. We can get better at the most critical activity we engage in as a leader. The athlete that doesn’t refine his or her skills is called an amateur. The leader that doesn’t grow in their decision-making abilities is called average.
How can we get better at making decisions? Here are a few ideas to jumpstart your thinking.
Learn from the past – Have you ever done an analysis of your decision-making? How’s your batting average? How often do you get it right? How often do you miss the mark? What patterns exist? Do you make better decisions when others are involved? How often do you follow your instincts – your gut? What have others done? What has worked in the past?
Wait until it matters – Don’t make decision early. Things change. Find out when a decision must be made. Make it then. One of the first questions I ask when confronted with a major decision: When is the latest we can reach a decision? Use the time before the due date to think, consider alternatives and get input from others. You miss some, or all of this, if you decide prematurely. Also, if you decide early, there’s more time for second-guessing. The real challenge in most cases is not the decision anyway – the REAL CHALLENGE is execution. Decide and then move quickly to action.
Value principles over rules – Principles are universally applicable and require judgment. Rules remove the need for judgment and often yield a sub-optimum outcome. A short list of principles to aide in decision-making can be extremely helpful. Here are a few examples to consider as you create your own short list:
- The closer the decision-maker is to the actual work the better.
- The level to which a decision rises in the organization should always be in proportion to its relative impact, risk or cost.
- Clarity on decision-making roles increases the chances of a good outcome and a timely decision.
- Different decisions warrant different approaches – one size does not fit all (e.g., Consultative, Consensus, Command, Delegated).
If you want to improve your golf game or your serve in tennis, you focus on it. You can do the same with your decision-making. You get to decide.[GLS_Shield]