As a leader, it’s your job to make decisions – the right decisions. The problem with this statement is that it is inherently flawed. If leaders are supposed to make the right decisions, why are so many decisions bad or riddled with consequences? The process of leadership decision making is subject to a complex array of fears, perceptions, opinions, relationships, egos, bad data, misinterpretations, and other factors. In the end, most leadership decisions fall into a category known as “WAGs” – wild-ass guesses.
Some leaders spew out decisions like a general leading an army while others obsess over every decision to the point where, should a decision ever come, it’s too little too late. Your approach to decision making is unique to you and how you process situations, data, opportunities, threats, and the world around you. Make more of the right decisions and you’ll be recognized as a great leader and businessperson. Make too many bad decisions and you’re out of a job and/or out of business.
Here is are some no-compromise insights to keep in mind on your quest for making the right decisions:
- Spontaneous combustion: As a leader, you have to make decisions on the fly because stuff comes at you from all directions all day long. Spontaneous decisions can go terribly wrong when both your emotions and stress levels are high, and your ability to cope is low. Leaders that rip into people and call them out in public are making bad decisions. Leaders that adhere to the doctrine of “ready/fire/aim” routinely make bad decisions because they go with their gut instincts and ignore data, potential consequences, and opposing opinions. Spontaneous decisions may be necessary in the heat of battle, but they can burst into flames on bigger decisions that warrant a more thorough understanding before hitting the launch button.
- Analysis paralysis: You know you need to make an important decision, so you dive into historical data, grind away at projections and “what if’s,” consult your inner circle for opinions, pray to the business gods for sign, and voilà … you’re still stuck. Leaders afflicted with analysis paralysis act in such a way as to slow down progress, feed into uncertainty, and compound the very problem that’s waiting for their decision. When you find yourself in this situation, you must push through the blockage and make the best decision possible. Since you did your due diligence, the odds of a good decision are in your favor. Sometimes, the easiest way to maintain perspective is to ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” It’s usually not all that bad. Make the decision.
- Drop the bomb: This is the ultimate entrepreneurial approach — you make a major business decision and just drop it on your company. You know you’ve dropped a bomb when the collective response from your team is a bewildered “Huh?!” They’re shocked and feel blindsided. Unlike spontaneous decisions that tend to be more operational corrections, “drop the bomb” decisions are major shifts in business direction, policy, job positions, personnel – even the vision of the company. Congratulations on making a major decision – but you blew up your company in the process. The problem with this approach to decision making is that the leader’s thinking is well into the implementation phase while the rest of the company is still trying to figure out what just happened. Solution: avoid drop the bomb decision making.
- Collective bargaining: This a group version of analysis paralysis where everyone’s opinion, point of view, ego, and “protect my turf” thinking overburdens and overcomplicates the decision-making process. Too often, it become less about finding the best decision and more about who’s idea wins or who will be “inconvenienced” the least when the decision is implemented. Team problem solving can be amazingly powerful if the group is a manageable size, is given a clear mission with desired outcomes, and a deadline that prevents endless debate and wheel spinning. Give a team a week to solve a problem, or 60 minutes to solve the same problem. You may get your best solution in 60 minutes.
- I’m the boss: There is nothing more morale-sapping than a leader that crushes all opposition by proclaiming, “I’m the boss and this isn’t up for negotiation.” Any chance for healthy debate is squashed. It’s the “my way or the highway” power play that initiates a demoralized implementation process. Any leader using this approach has much to learn about leadership.
- But it WAS the right decision: This one is very interesting because the right decision followed by poor execution can leave an entire leadership team or company wondering what went wrong. More importantly, it can cause leaders to question their ability to make good decisions simply because their “right” decisions don’t work as planned. The ability to execute a decision requires planning, shared knowledge, training, procedures, measurements, and timelines. The rush to implement, or commands that sound like “just get it done”, usually sets a company up for failure. If you believe you have the right decision, give it the time, attention, and leadership it deserves in order to achieve the results you want. If you suck at the details, put the project in the hands of a task master that lives to dot every “i” and cross every “t.”
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