Decision Making - Sitting on the Fence

It’s one of those business myths that leaders and managers spend their days making high powered decisions that effect the livelihoods of those around them and the very survival of their businesses. The reality is very different. Despite Business Schools and leadership development programs preparing people to make such earth shattering decisions, they are few and far between.

Decisions do get made on a regular basis but when we step back and think about them they are no different to those we make in our everyday lives. They just have a business context. Deciding on whether to source from one supplier as opposed to another is no different to buying a new refrigerator at home. It’s only complicated by internal processes and potentially legislation.

It’s strange then that so many leaders and managers get paralysed by fear that they might make the ‘wrong’ decision. Yes, real business situations can feel very different to those scenarios played out at Business School. The levels of complexity may differ too but that’s no excuse for sitting on the fence. Maybe it’s the age old western stereotype of leaders making decisions and sticking to them, no matter what, that worries people? Well it’s time to grow up people, real leaders recognize if a decision needs to be changed and know what to do to make it happen.

The information upon which decisions are made is constantly being updated, and that doesn’t change after a decision has been made. If, on consideration, a well reasoned choice needs to be changed for the good of the business then who wouldn’t make that call? Well, maybe those who consider their own egos more important than the good of the business.

Business owners as opposed to leaders and managers in organizational hierarchies are far more likely to stay flexible in their decision making. Surely such flexibility of thought ought to be a sought after leadership competence at all levels in all businesses?

So when you next have a non-routine decision to make think about:

  1. The time sensitivities involved. When must a decision be made. Sometimes if a decision isn’t made by this point then the opportunity to make a difference is lost.
  2. Are you the right person to make the decision? This isn’t an excuse to ‘pass it up the chain’, it’s recognizing realities in large organizations. At the same time if you can take responsibility for making that decision it frees up everyone else’s time to undertake value adding work.
  3. Gather the essential information, data and opinions you need as quickly as you can. Get all that you can get in a sensible period of time. Only you know if there is any piece of information that is a ‘must have’ and it’s down to you to do what’s required to get it.

Once you have all that you need it’s simple – you make your decision and you communicate it to whoever needs to know. That isn’t the end of it.

You need to reassure yourself that the follow through from that decision happens and that means constant follow up with those who will be implementing. And that’s until the outcome you wanted is achieved or until your decision needs to be updated. Thankfully these are fewer than most imagine – the rest are business as usual activities, or should be.

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© Paul Slater and Reflect & Lead, 2015.

Image courtesy of Kieran Slater