Decisions Are the Prelude to Success

Is decision-making invigorating or excruciating? It depends who you ask. Some love it (like, really love it). Others would rather schedule an appointment with their dentist.

What makes professional decision-making so stressful for many people? There can be many factors, such as lack of expertise, lack of confidence, lack of support or decision-fatigue. Perhaps the biggest stress inducer is worrying about the fallout from a poor outcome.

So what happens in organizations? Important decisions get put off or pushed up the organizational chain of command. Eventually,  innovation stagnates and the leadership team laments the lack of initiative of the leaders in the ranks. The courage and discipline to make critical decisions is a core responsibility for every leader.

Every leader needs a decision-making plan – and every critical decision should at least include these elements:

Define the Objective

Each point of decision should be made with a specific end result in mind. That’s the point of the decision. But you’d be surprised how many decision-makers are foggy on the objective to begin with. Most decisions will have an ideal outcome as well as an acceptable outcome. It’s helpful to identify the “avoid at all costs” outcome as well. This objective acts as a measuring stick for all the other decision-making factors.

Get the Information

Peter Drucker observed, “Once the facts are clear, the decisions jump out at you.” It’s amazing how many decision-makers fail to consult the basic facts. No wonder decision-making is stressful. They aren’t leveraging a tool that in most cases is readily available. There are may forms of information that may be relevant to a decision at hand: facts, trends, opinions or strategy. And don’t forget to include the input of others who need to be involved in the decision-making process.

Remember, you’ll never have all 100% of the information. Beware the temptation to delay critical decisions when you have enough information to make an informed decision.

Create Multiple Options

Just like there are multiple routes to reach a destination, there are usually multiple decisions that can accomplish an objective. Still, some routes are better than others. The best decision-makers create multiple options to pick from. Similarly, they resist the tendency frame decisions using binary terms of “yes/no” or “go/stay.”

It’s best to have at least three options for action to select from, especially if one of them is a more creative option than usual.

Make the Decision

Once the different options have been considered, as well as the potential risk and reward in pursuit of the desired outcome, it’s time to commit. This isn’t the point of intention, it’s the point of clear decision. Some final decisions are made by an individual and some by a team, but in either case, the decision and next course of action should be communicated quickly and clearly.

Most windows have a window of opportunity. You shouldn’t rush into a decision too soon, but if you wait too long, you miss the opportunity and the “right” decision isn’t the right decision anymore.

Take Decisive Action

Once a decision has been reached, it’s time to take decisive action. In fact, some would say that until you’ve taken action, you haven’t actually committed to the decision yet. The best decisions can be enacted quickly and ideally can be reinforced with quick wins and success indicators.

Not only is decision-making is a critical leadership skill, the reward for making and implementing difficult decisions successfully is often tougher decisions. (That’s essentially what promotions represent!) But regardless of our level, we’ll all have opportunities to make decisions that affect us, our teams and our organizations. Each decision is an opportunity to practice and perform.

Will you accept the responsibility to make the next difficult decision that comes your way?

This article is included in the Leadership-in-a-Box® program:


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