I asked this question to one of my coaching clients, who was wrestling with a complex business decision. It prompted him to look at the situation from a different perspective, one that didn’t involve him telling himself that he couldn’t make a decision because he didn’t have all the facts and may therefore make the wrong decision.
Business leaders and managers often get caught in the trap of seeking certainty over clarity, delaying or failing to make a timely decision whilst they gather more data. Meanwhile, their team is left without clear direction, and this act of indecisiveness erodes their confidence in the leader. It’s one of Patrick Lencioni’s “Five Temptations of a CEO”.
One of my early mentors told me the worst decision is deciding not to make a decision. At least a decision that turns out to be wrong can be changed, and you will have learned something, whereas procrastination is simply a waste of time.
Making decisions comes naturally to us. We develop our skills as we progress through life; however, the decisions we face become more complex, leveraged, and uncertain as we become more senior. Although historically, organisations have promoted people into senior management positions based on their technical competence in a functional role, e.g. accountant, engineer, sales-person, few assess the candidate’s level of competence making complex decisions. Even fewer provide coaching to help the newly promoted person further develop their skill. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the common topics I encounter when coaching business leaders as they struggle to understand what’s getting in their way and causing them stress when tackling the myriad of daily decisions.
I always start with the person’s strengths, exploring the attributes that the individual already brings to the decision-making process. Of course, this varies for each individual, but generally, we can all draw on some level of knowledge, reasoning, experience, objectivity, emotional intelligence, and courage.
Courage is an essential component in effective leadership; it comes not from heroic individualism but from a willingness to be vulnerable. Brene Brown’s definition of vulnerability – the feeling we get during times of uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure. (Brene Brown, “Dare to Lead”).
I invite my coachee to reflect on the emotions that are triggered when facing a tough decision and what mindset they bring; is there a need to be “right” – perfectionism, or an aversion to risk – a fear of failure. And un-picking a little deeper, what value or belief sits behind the mindset; pride, approval, or security. Increasing self-awareness helps us understand and overcome the doubts that creep into our subconscious mind enabling us to focus, think clearly and make confident decisions.
Making decisions involves a process that involves strategic intent, data gathering, analysis, scenario planning, risk assessment, and often consultation. The most important step comes at the end – taking action, in this case making a decision. Taking action quells the fear, breaks the inertia, provides direction, creates motivation, generates the outcome and the learning. From there, you can adjust, fix or even start again with new information. The worst place to be is stuck, so in the words of Susan Jeffers, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” As with all skills, repeated practice, review, and adjustment are the keys to long-term development.
If you would like to improve your decision-making to become a more confident and effective leader then please get in touch.