Decision-Making Tips for Good Leaders

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Making good decisions is the hallmark of being a great leader. But it's not always enough to make “good” decisions—a manager also has to be decisive and quick with responses.

In his book Servant as Leader, Robert K. Greenleaf said, “On an important decision one rarely has 100% of the information needed for a good decision no matter how much one spends or how long one waits. And, if one waits too long, he has a different problem and has to start all over. This is the terrible dilemma of the hesitant decision maker.” 

So how do some of the best leaders tackle the job of making good decisions quickly?

Start by not making the decision yourself: This may seem counter-intuitive, but a leader that makes every decision on their own will soon run out of time. Many decisions can be delegated. Surround yourself with smart people you trust, give them the coaching they need, and let them make decisions on your behalf. Then, reserve the high-impact, non-reversible decisions for yourself. Any decision that is either reversible down the road, or unlikely to be a critical failure if missed, is a prime candidate for delegation. 

Assign a devil's advocate: When everyone is headed in one direction, it never hurts to contemplate the opposite position. Ask someone to debate with you over the path less desired. It can be an hour-long meeting, or it can simply be a 10-minute conversation. Even if you don't change course, exercising the options out loud can give you insight into ways to build safeguards into your action plans should any of your assumptions be incorrect.

Don't wait to be certain: Waiting for 100% of the information can drag plans to a halt and waste valuable momentum. Make a quick decision and begin marching down the path. But, in your plans, build in time for adjustments and enhancements to your plan as more information becomes available. 

Conduct a post-mortem: When you've made big decisions, acted on them, and completed projects or plans, schedule time to review with a team. Keep good documentation from the beginning so that you can identify opportunities to improve the decision-making or implementation processes. Without a review on how you did, it's hard to get better at making decisions. 

Not every decision will be perfect. That understanding is also critical to being a leader. Many times, taking action and being mostly correct will be better than taking no action at all.

By freeing up your time to focus on the high-impact decisions, leveraging a team that you trust, examining the options, and looking back at the process and outcomes, you'll get a much higher success rate on your big business decisions. 

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