Thinking Through Decisions
When you ask people for characteristics of successful leaders, one of the characteristics that will be frequently mentioned is decision making. What isn’t often recognized is how leaders make decisions. Few leaders make decisions based on snap judgments. Instead they have a structure to their decision making.
Structure for making decisions can vary from individual to individual. There is no one best structural approach. Each person has to think through the structure that works best for him/her. Described below are some structural approaches that you might find to work for you:
- Think of all the options you have available to you. Then for each option make a list of why this option makes sense and why this option may not work. As you make these lists, think of how difficult it is to add items to each list for each option. The difficulty of adding items to “why this makes sense” list can be an indication of an option that you might not want to consider further. Likewise, the difficulty of adding items to why this might not work can be an indication that this is a better option.
- Develop a mathematical model that compares quantitatively the options. Comparisons can reflect such criteria as capital cost, operating cost, return on investment, payback period, investment risk, etc. Once you have the model, then do an analysis of which option best meets the criteria. Once you have the initial results, then do a sensitivity analysis to see whether the results vary greatly the input data.
- Ask trusted colleagues to make their best case for different options. Ignore the passion of the advocacy, but focus instead pay attention to how the contrasts are drawn. What is the focus of the contrasts? There are many issues in any decision. Using this process can help you get a handle on the issues that others find the most relevant. These issues are where you should focus your attention.
- Ask yourself if I make this decision, what other decisions can I make, or do I have to make, or can I make, and when? Should I make the whole decision today, or can I make part of it and then see if I get more information before I make the rest of it? Can I impact the risk and uncertainty by the timing or sequence of decisions and/or interaction with events that aren’t under my control? This usually suggests trying to buy time, but not always (and the perception that you’re indecisive is rarely helpful). Unless there’s a pretty clear benefit to delaying, Murphy’s law works against you. If something unexpected happens while you’re “in process”, it’s very rare that it’s good news.
- Ultimately your decision is one that you are comfortable with. One way to judge this is to think through the decision before you go to sleep. Make a choice. As you draft off to sleep, you will start thinking about how you are going to announce the decision. If you are truly comfortable with the decision, your sleep will be restful. If you have difficulty sleeping, you are probably not ready to make a decision.
Whatever your decision making structure, you can’t engage in what is called post-decision regret. You have to tell yourself that you made the best possible decision given the information you had. It’s ok to review your decision and your approach, but you can’t doubt yourself because this will lead to decision paralysis.