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If Only I Could Decide!

Making decisions is an incredibly important aspect of effective leadership…and part of what defines your success as a leader is the ability to make sound and timely decisions.  Remember, even when you don’t make a decision, you’re still making one! 

As a supervisor, manager or leader, one of your responsibilities is to make decisions. Sometimes you decide right away, sometimes it takes longer, and sometimes you procrastinate…but, regularly, you must gather information, evaluate facts, and decide on a course of action. A decision is judgment. It is a choice between alternatives. How you make decisions, and how quickly you do so, will have a big impact on your success.

Several reasons exist for not making decisions, such as insufficient information, inaccurate (bad) information, and fear of making a mistake. Fear of making a mistake can be tied to your own sense of self-confidence and your perceived level of readiness to decide, as well as the culture of your company or organization, and how "failing" is viewed.

One of the key ingredients to decision making is courage: your ability to make good decisions and implement those decisions. However, just like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, many leaders go through life worried and hesitant about all sorts of things. They lack the courage of their own convictions and often this has a significant impact on their decision-making ability. Conversely, courage helps you reach a level of decision-making that propels your success.

There is a perception that an effective decision making process is devoid of emotions, but there is no tangible evidence to support this. Actually, the contemporary discourse in organizational life is that emotions are an integral part of the process; especially if they are positive ones. They can help activate creativity, promote collaboration and buy-in, and build confidence and courage.

Two qualities that lead to more effective decisions are logic and an open mind. You must logically assemble the facts of a situation and keep an open mind to creatively develop alternatives from which to choose when making your decision. The logical, open-minded approach to making a decision typically involves steps such as:

  1. Recognize that a problem exists
  2. Define the problem
  3. Identify possible causes of the problem
  4. Seek a series of possible solutions
  5. Evaluate those possible solutions
  6. Choose the solution you think is best
  7. Share your decision
  8. Inspect the decision 

It’s critical to recognize that the timing of making a decision is often critical. It can make the difference between success and failure. Problems do not go away; you have to roll up your sleeves and address them. Ask yourself where you are from 1 to 10 in terms of being an effective decision maker. If it’s less than a 9 or 10, consider what is hindering you from being better. Then develop an action plan to close the gap. Think about what value that would have for your job and career success.

There is a saying that "A ship in the harbor is a safe place…but that is not what ships are for." Get off the dock if you want to go sailing. There is always risk connected with every decision; however nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Thanks to Charles Parnell, Senior Strategic Partner at HPISolutions for contributing some thoughts on this important topic.