Successul leaders are not paid for doing things they like to do. They are paid for making effective decisions and getting the right things done. Leaders fail when they make only “easy” decisions, the ones they like, or the ones that will get them liked. Lazy leaders fall back too readily on excuses like “What other choices did I have?” and “This is just the way things are,” “What other decision could I make?” or “The choices I make are driven by the choices I have.”
Decision making begins the moment you realize that a problem exists, or that you have alternatives from which to choose. These alternatives are not always as clear as “black or white” or “right versus wrong.” Sometimes there are no “easy” alternatives, alternatives you like or that will get you liked by others. Sometimes leaders must choose the “best right decision” – all the more reason to consider as many alternatives as possible.
New alternatives arise from looking at your circumstances “through a different lens”, from other perspectives.
Decision making begins with a simple question, “Should I…?” Each of us makes a vast number of decisions in the course of each day. Many of these decisions we made long ago and now simply repeat out of habit with little conscious thought. Other decisions require more thought, with consideration for context and what we value most. Some decisions we make on our own without consideration of others. Some decisions we benefit from the involvement of others, either to inform the individual decision we must make or to make a group decision. Some decisions deserve to be seen “through a different lens.”
Since, as a leader, your decision-making can be difficult and is always important, here are some critical elements to effective problem-solving and decision-making. These will help you see your sometimes circumstances in new ways, “through a different lens.”
Conditions of Satisfaction – First and foremost, clearly define your objective, goal or problem. What do I want?
If you are having trouble making a decision, first identify a clear objective that you know you want to achieve. State your goal that the decision has to achieve with specific conditions it has to satisfy. At first, you may need to define your decision as a problem, then create your goal as the best-case scenario of what you want to happen as a result of solving the problem. Your objective will require this decision but may not be the immediate outcome of the decision.
Example: Should I work late tonight on this project? Conditions of satisfaction: I want to meet or beat my deadline, please my customers and assure my family that I will be available for our planned trip to the lake this weekend. Yes, I will work late tonight.
Importance – How important is the problem or decision? This determines how much time and energy should be placed on the decision-making process.
Example: If you are deciding what to eat for dinner, the decision probably shouldn’t require much effort (especially if you have goals that require you to choose what you eat based on preconceived and intentional conditions of satisfaction). On the other hand, if you are deciding whether to change your profession, the decision has immediate and long-term implications and may require much time and effort to make, let alone time to consider your true conditions of satisfaction. If you are deciding how to facilitate your next team meeting, yet another in a long series of meetings, you may use little time or energy or – because you recognize long-term implications – you may invest a great amount of time and energy to plan the meeting agenda and process.
Time – How much time can or will I give to this decision? There is a distinct difference between “should” and “will”, remember. This distinction is easier if you already are clear and have prioritized both your core values and goals, as well as short-term and long-term implications.
Information – How much information do I need to reach a sound conclusion?
Experience – What do I already know from similar decisions/situations?
Be careful here; experience can be a wise encouraging teacher or a devil of a fearful friend.
Input – Some decisions should not be made in a vacuum or the privacy of your own thoughts. Involve input from others. Share your tentative decision with others before taking action. Test and measure. Some decisions are not yours alone to make, of course. How good are you at facilitating group decisions? (How do you know?)
Alternatives – Consider all possible alternatives first, then determine which one(s) help you achieve your Conditions of Satisfaction and your ultimate goal. What are the rewards of the decision? What will the decision cost you? What are the consequences of NOT making the decision? What else is possible?
Sure, invest due diligence in a SLOT analysis (Strengths, Limitations, Opportunities, Threats) of the circumstance of your decision, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your circumstances create your choices. Instead, recognize that your choices create your circumstances. Along these same lines, a good affirmation for problem-solving and decision-making is this:
“I cannot change what has happened, but I am responsible for what happens next.”
Action – As in goal setting, decisions are only mental exercises and do not yield results until they are put into action.
Review and Evaluate – Consider the things you want to have, do and become the most – your core values and goals – when evaluating your decisions and solutions. Have you achieved the desired results, really? What have you learned? What have you gained? What have you lost? What bears repeating? What had you better not repeat ever again?