Learn to make better decisions
Special to The Globe and Mail – Wednesday, June 5th 2013 – See in Globe and Mail
Do you know your decision-making style? Do you rely on facts and figures or gut feelings? Are you comfortable making decisions? Do you trust your decisions? Or do you procrastinate or frequently change your mind?
Both overconfidence and underconfidence can result in poor decisions. Therefore, if you want to be recognized as a strong leader with dependable decision-making skills, you need to know your strengths and weaknesses. You also need to develop a reliable process that leverages the former and compensates for the latter.
Here are some suggestions that can help you develop the skills you require to trust your decisions.
If you tend to go with your gut:
In today’s competitive work environments, there’s often unrelenting pressure for rapid decisions. We even celebrate fast-talking, rely-on-your-gut leaders. But it’s important to know that gut/intuitive feeling is founded on prior experiences. This presents a couple of risks: inherent bias and questionable relevance in a rapidly changing world.
As MacroCognition scientist Gary Klein points out in an interview for McKinsey, “You need to take your gut feeling as an important data point, but then you have to consciously and deliberately evaluate it, to see if it makes sense in this context.” Therefore it’s important to balance impulsiveness with a reasoned process.
If you prefer the facts:
People who are analytical tend to make decisions based on facts. Too much information or too many options, however, can lead to overanalyzing. This can result in delayed decisions, the inability to make a decision or changing decisions when new facts arise.
But good decisions aren’t necessarily based on assessing every available piece of information. The best decisions typically arise from a combination of experience, facts – and a willingness to accept some risk. So if you crave facts, facts and more facts before making a decision, it may be necessary to address this compulsive need for more information.
To become a leader who is decisive and whose choices most often yield successful outcomes requires practice. Adopting a systematic approach helps to ensure that all of the important factors have been considered.
Here’s a general framework that supports informed, thoughtful decisions. It can be adapted to address simple or complex problems, opportunities and choices.
Clarify the issue. What’s the specific problem or opportunity? What challenges does this present? Why does this issue need to be addressed? How is this similar to previous challenges? How is it different? What’s the expected outcome?
Who should be involved? Since isolated thinking can lead to poor decisions, determine whether others should be involved in making this decision. Whose input does this decision require? Why? How should they be involved?
Gather input. When others will be included in decision making, create a collaborative process to help you see the entire scope of the problem and to gather perspectives. What isn’t clear? What information do you need to make the decision? When you gather the necessary information, assess it from different viewpoints. Where does this information come from? How reliable is it? Are we missing anything significant?
Identify and evaluate options. Identify all potential options/solutions and evaluate the feasibility, risks and implications of each. If you’re making this decision alone, it’s important to remain as objective as possible and to use your critical thinking skills. When others are involved, open a dialogue to encourage opinions and challenge ideas. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman warns that “overconfidence is a powerful source of illusions.” If someone disagrees with your opinion, explore the reasons.
Choose the best alternative using both logic and intuition. While others may have been involved in the process, as a leader you must have the self-confidence to decide independently. Start by verifying the decision: Was the process thorough? Then use your intuition to guide your final decision. Do you feel comfortable with this decision? Any doubts?
Accept responsibility. Once you’ve taken all of the steps to make a decision, stand by it.
Don’t vacillate. Take responsibility for the consequences. When you have confidence in your decisions, others will have confidence in you.
Assess the outcome of your decision. Every decision provides an opportunity for a learning experience. Did this decision result in the outcome you anticipated? If not, what would you do differently next time? What do you know now that you didn’t know before?
A good leader is a decisive leader. With practice, you can become adept at blending intuition and information to generate timely and confident decisions. Practise and learn to trust your decisions.