Decision Making Skills–Your Most Important Tool
One of the most important skills you’ll ever possess is your ability to make good decisions. Decision making is something we all struggle with– yet it makes us or breaks us.
How do you feel about your decision making process? Can you make a decision–business or personal–and be happy with it? Can you move on quickly and not look back?
Decisions Then and Now–How Decision-making has Changed
As a child decisions were easier–they were based on a few fundamentals: How much does it cost? Can we afford it? What does the Bible say? What will the neighbors think? Will it get you in trouble with the law?
Today I value the earlier principles I was taught and have learned a few additional ones that may be helpful.
- Decisions Are About Ways to Get Great Outcomes. Most people I know that make great decisions have a bias for action. They weigh the pro’s and the con’s, decide, and then move quickly. A few decisions should be made later rather than sooner, just when the time is right. People get lost grinding out decisions about things we won’t remember tomorrow. The decisions that matter should be like stair steps that take us to the next story of the life we’re building. Our process should focus on making the decision that brings about a great outcome–to the next stage of our business or our lives.
- Logic Is Useful–but a People-Based Decision Is Beautiful. If you do research on decision-making today, you’ll find that most advice from those who study the subject revolves around gathering the right information from all the sources available–and from then on it’s just the facts. Good decisions are informed by facts, but they begin with ourselves and the people around us. Relationships are the key to great decisions.
As a young manager I was advised by my boss, “Jack, don’t let feelings get in your way.” That meant that if people were uncomfortable with the decisions I was making, I shouldn’t take that into account. I took my boss’s advice very seriously. That kind of logic almost derailed my career.
My goal was to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible, and I had next to zero awareness of what the people around me were thinking or feeling. Their input took way too much time to find out. As a result I didn’t have the benefit of their thoughts or ideas, and my decisions suffered because of my logic. Decisions do not start with logic. They begin with the dreams of people. Dreams are accomplished with logical strategies, but nobody starting with logic will be successful. This type of decision-making is the marriage of Thinking and Feeling, to use Myers-Briggs terms.
- Group Thinking Kills Good Decisions. In order to implement decisions you must have people behind you. Nonetheless, good decisions that make a difference come from people who have a vision of what’s important. As a species, human history has its foundation in groups and tribes who wanted stability and were naturally not attracted to change.
I feel sure that the person who invented the wheel took a lot of grief for this strange contraption that put good honest porters who carried heavy loads out of work. You’ll have to decide if you want to fight for your ideas. Their quality and the effectiveness and passion with which you present them will determine your success. A good decision begins with a good idea.
- Good Decisions Support Where We’re Headed. Good decisions support a consistent direction. Some people run their lives like a trip to Paris that goes by way of Bangkok and Buenos Aires. They may see a lot of great scenery, but it will take a long time to get to the destination.
Sometimes life takes us on a 180 degree turn where we change our direction and career. Generally speaking, however, the decision I make today builds on the decision I made yesterday. I see people who get their MBA, go on to coding school, decide they want to work for a non-profit, and then suddenly go into theater. Each time they’re sure they’re going in the right direction “this time.”
Then they feel they’ve prepared for so much, only to find out they’re qualified to do nothing. They end up frustrated and resentful because the system hasn’t served them. Taking a solid direction and building on what we did yesterday is the key to arriving at where you want to go tomorrow.
Decision making is complex and difficult and involves many factors, some contradictory to each other. Good decisions involve good research. All the known facts about any subject today are just a click away.
Every good decision should involve our own opinion poll of the best minds that surround us. Family, tradition, religious beliefs all form the shape of our decisions. Optimize opportunity and minimize risk. The way my decision impacts those around me is a strong guiding principle. Then I ask, “How does this decision define my mission and build on the foundation of my life?”
The more I am willing to make decisions, the more control I have of my life and circumstances. Decisions almost always carry an element of risk–and many people are averse to risk. Because they are uncomfortable with being wrong or blamed for anything, they would rather have someone else make the decision–even when they don’t like it.
I believe that the more I empower myself to make decisions, even though I make mistakes, I’ll always come out better by stepping up and deciding. I know that I will protect my interests better than anyone else. So give it your best shot–decide and do it!