This thing called life is filled with decisions. Whether they are as simple as what shirt to wear today or what to eat for lunch or whether they are as complex as who to marry or what career to pursue, we all face and make varied decisions daily. As leaders, we too face the reality of large and small, simple and complex decisions each day but the decisions we make affect not only ourselves but those for whom we have responsibility. In fact, when we examine the typical work environment, leadership and decision making are so inextricably linked that it is almost instinctual (in most of us) to defer decision-making power to those who have been identified as our leaders.
Notwithstanding the almost natural dovetailing of decision making and leadership, many leaders (especially new ones) feel out of their depth when making a decision. Their fear or hesitation may manifest in inordinate delays relative to making the decision (paralysis by analysis) or in them not making the decision at all and hoping that it will make or resolve itself (kicking the can down the road). This aversion to decision making could spring from a lack of knowledge on how to make effective decisions or, at the core, there may be a fear of the consequences associated with making the wrong decision.
As we address these two possibilities, remember that this complex, high-speed and competitive world we now operate within, demands that good and sometimes fast decisions be made for operations to continue moving forward. Unreasonable delays in making a decision could result in lost opportunities, reduced revenues and even increased costs so it is important that we develop our ability to make sound and timely decisions.
In going about the decision-making process, first understand that this does not have to be ‘one-man-show’ – there is no rule that a leader must make all decisions exclusively on his or her own. Decision-making is best done when it involves the perspectives and input of those around you, including peers, subordinates and advisors/consultants. Pooling these various views together can effectively help a leader make a well-informed and most likely effective decision. This could go even further by the leader asking for and making the decision based on the view held by the majority; in such a case, the saying of ‘there is strength in numbers’ rings true.
However, there are some instances where leaders have to make decisions for their teams in the absence of consultation but this is generally best suited to scenarios where time is of the essence and there is a crisis situation. Accordingly, experienced and knowledgeable leaders may be able to rely on their intellect and intuition in such cases, quickly assess the situation and make an effective decision even without the additional security of the consultative process.
As we briefly examine the process of making effective decisions as a leader, note that there are several benefits to be gained by listening to the views of those around you as you weigh the pros and cons of the decision being made. But don’t take too long; time is of the essence. Set yourself a timeframe in which the decision needs to be made. Some decisions come with built-in timeframes – for example: making a decision on an employee’s position after the probationary period. However, there are many other situations that in the absence of a set timeframe for conclusion, the decision-maker could go around in circles for hours, days weeks or months before making a decision. Generally, the timeframe will be based on the significance of the decision but it should be reasonable – not rushed or protracted.
Weighing the pros and the cons is another critical step in the decision-making process. Here, all gathered information about the decision is classified based on the advantages or the disadvantages it can/will produce. Throughout this process, there needs to be a fair degree of transparency and willingness to accept the truth of the information on the part of the decision maker (s) or they may find themselves being led by emotions that may not result in the most effective decision being made.
Lastly, after all the consultations, the setting of an appropriate timeframe and the weighing out and classification of all data and information, we need to make the decision. Effective leaders are oftentimes decisive leaders – they make the decision and evaluate its outcomes along the way. Unfortunately, history is filled with many examples which demonstrate how not making a decision can sometimes be as bad as or worse than actually making a wrong decision. So, if you have followed this process or a similar one in arriving at your best possible course of action, just do it and let it all play out from there. Don’t be surprised if it then leads you to even more decisions which will have to be made.
(Davidson Ishmael holds a MBA in Leadership and Innovation and is an operations manager in the financial services sector.