Decision Making is a Skill

Dither, Dither?

Several years ago, the leader of a small company I worked for was looking to fill an executive level position and had identified a strong candidate among a group of good candidates. The team was weighing in on the pros and cons of making an offer to the strong candidate.

After the typical scheduling delays, we had the candidate in for another conversation. Over the week end I thought about the choices. If I were asked on Monday for my recommendation, I wanted to be ready with my decision.

Business is about solving problems. Good businesses solve problems for other people. Great businesses solve problems for other businesses profitably. The likelihood of being a profitable business goes up if the business’ leaders can make decisions around solving problems inside their organizations efficiently. I’m not saying rush your decision and I’m not advocating making  poor quality decision. I’m saying pay attention to how efficient your business leaders are at making decisions. It’s shocking how often business people struggle with decisions, especially since that’s what business often comes down to: Making a Decision.

Satisfying Cravings

In my twenties, I worked with an ambitious young woman and I asked her what her career goal was. “I want to make decisions,” she said.

Now that is a statement to think about. Did I crave making decisions, I wondered?  The people who crave making decisions are like this young woman, they want the risk and the power. They understand that the decision is the fulcrum of opportunity, and they want their hand on the lever. They trust themselves. They see Decision Making as a skill; something that can, and must, be honed. They want to get better and better at making decisions.

Did I crave making decisions, I wondered?

A small business, or a small team in a big business, is a great laboratory with many opportunities for observing the interplay of opportunities, decisions and results. How long does it take for the people around you to make hiring decisions? How quickly do they decide to go forward with a campaign or cut an unprofitable product? There is a tendency to way overestimate the downside; we hesitate. That natural hesitation is an opportunity for you.


Become a Decision-Making Assistant

You can separate yourself from the average teammate or the average executive by learning how to do the most powerful thing you can do in business, make a great decision. Here’s how:

  1. Crave making decisions.
  2. Pay close attention to the other leaders in your company. Who decides what, when? Who dithers? Who makes gut decisions quickly? Who seems to always need more information?
  3. Discover a decision that needs to be made that’s not being made.
  4. When you get the opportunity, sort it out for yourself and make your ‘practice’ decision.
  5. State that you have come to a decision in your own mind based on what you have learned.
  6. Go ahead and state your decision: “If I had to make the decision right now, I would _____.” You can frame it as a ‘practice’ decision.
  7. Practice decisions as often as you can

At best, you will be viewed as someone who makes remarkably sound business decisions who is able to act on opportunity when other people are unsure. At worst, your boss may think you are an idiot. On the other hand, you may be a very valuable idiot. Articulating your decision could spur your boss or co-worker to think differently, explore their own decision-making skills or take responsibility for the decision. Remember, decision making is the most important attribute of a business problem solver. You can be a huge asset to your boss — be a decision-making assistant.

Articulating your decision could spur your boss or co-worker to think differently, explore their own decision-making skills or take responsibility for the decision.

You will know it’s working when your bosses or other leaders start to ask you to weigh in when they have a big decision to make.

If this doesn’t happen – you can ask to be brought into the process. What did they think about what you said? What about it did they discount?  Ask their help to continuously improve your decision-making skills.


At Least Pay Attention

About now, you are probably wondering if being a decision-making assistant is a good idea or not. At a minimum, it’s a good idea to pay attention to how decisions get made in your business, even small ones. What can you learn?

Decision making is a fantastic hobby. There is no equipment to buy; no club to join. There is an unending supply of opportunities to practice. You can do it alone or in a group. It’s like physical exercise, the more you work those muscles the stronger you get. Concerted, efficient decision making is weight training for your brain.

In the case of the hiring decision above, everyone was torn. It was a hard decision especially because no one candidate was perfect. On Monday, in the leader’s meeting when the topic came up, I volunteered: “You know what, y’all? I have thought about this and in my own mind I have come to a decision. I went back and forth all weekend and I am at peace with my decision. If I had a vote, I know how I would vote. I would extend an offer to the candidate right away.”  A couple of weeks later, I was having lunch with the CEO. He was going back and forth about whether or not to hire the candidate. I shared my conviction with him again. The next day, the CEO actually extended the offer to the candidate. The candidate had just accepted another offer and we lost the opportunity on the hire. A leader can always use a decision-making assistant.

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