Everyone makes decisions throughout their life. Whether meaningful or insignificant, life is an ongoing realization of the possibilities we consider, the decisions we make and the actions we take. As much as we try to research and analyze our destination before beginning a journey, people typically take multiple detours along the way by making decisions based on “what feels right” rather than on an inflexible course of action and a reaction to current events or conditions rather than an analytical weighing of all that the facts. Good leaders win more than they lose when faced with making quick decisions based on incomplete data. Great leaders gain the respect of others by making a high percentage of “judgment calls” that turn out to be successful decisions. In seeking to understand how great decisions are made, some thought processes that come into play would include:
Great decision-making requires us to utilize experience-based judgment when determining the likelihood that the road we choose will lead us towards our destination. An inexperienced driver may think he or she knows what to do when encountering a patch of black ice on the road because of the study they went through during a driver’s training class but lose control before being able to intentionally act. An individual having experience driving in winter may react more quickly – out of a “conditioned response” to the situation – taking control of the situation without really thinking about what to do if presented with the same challenge. Experience allows us to act without having to consider all the ramifications of our actions before taking them because we already know (without thinking) what will be more likely to lead us to success. Rarely will a truly exceptional leader step into a position of authority until he or she has performed many different jobs within an organization, demonstrated competency in a wide array of responsibilities and experienced (and taken credit/responsibility for) both success and failure. Gaining life experience through watching, seeing and participating in a variety of different activities is critical to the decision-making process.
Many individuals rush to act without thoroughly investigating all potential ramifications of their action so they will not lose what they see as a potential opportunity to excel. Truly successful people take the time to consider the “possible” as they move forward to accomplish the “probable” before attempting what others might see as being “highly unlikely” or presenting too much risk. Conceptualizing as many possible outcomes that could occur as a result of the actions we take – being willing to accept or respond to them appropriately using knowledge we have gained through experience – establishes a far greater potential than would doing what we know works in an environment that we know breeds success. Before acting, great leaders tend to (quickly and without hesitation) ask not only “what should be done” but, more importantly, seek to determine “why” action should (or should not be) taken, CONSTANTLY weighing the potential benefits of doing something against the repercussions (or ramifications) of doing nothing. A validation of any decision is whether one is in a “better place” after acting than they were before. If doing nothing provides a preferable result, it is often more advantageous to intentionally hold back rather than to foolishly rush forward.
Great leaders ensure that the organization will continue to benefit from good judgment in the future by developing it in those with whom they work today. They involve others in the decision-making process by leading them to a solution rather than pushing them to a conclusion, allowing them to see both the benefits and the potential pitfalls of any action taken. They allow others to make mistakes so that they can experience resolving them rather than continually sheltering them from harm’s way by removing the risk of loss from the equation. Unless (and until) an individual is given the opportunity to overcome the limitations of today’s reality by moving beyond “what works” towards “what has yet to be attempted,” developing a variety of experiences from which future decisions will be based, he or she may never be able to make important or significant decisions. Involving the people needed for implementation in the decision-making process, adding to and gaining from their experience along the way, will allow them to make better judgment calls in the future. Helping others to make better decisions will minimize the number of critical calls we must make ourselves.
Great leaders gain credibility and respect by allowing those around them to grow through exposure to new and different situations (often allowing them to grow by failing), rewarding progress as they move towards success (always monitoring the decisions they make to minimize catastrophic disruption) and encouraging others to analyze risk before acting (to recognize both the rewards of accomplishment and the ramifications of failure).
The key to making great decisions is to maintain “mental flexibility.” It is OK to change your mind if the conditions or situations driving your initial decision change. It is never wrong to act UNLESS you act without first considering all the ramifications involved with the actions you take. It is never wrong to INTENTIONALLY CHOOSE not to act UNLESS your failure to act is due to a fear of the unknown or an unintentionally missed opportunity. Being unafraid to make a mistake from which you can ultimately learn is critical as our greatest rewards are often born through the painful experiences of our losses.
As you move forward in decision-making skills, seek that which is possible rather than settling for what might seem probable. Do not limit yourself to what you can see – reach for what you dream. Recognize that dreams and imaginings often initiate great discoveries if we allow them to lead us to action. Avoid, however, pushing others ahead as you go. Pull them along with you as you discover new and exciting opportunities – allow them to reap the benefits of your work as they seek to establish the courage of their own convictions. Take control of your life by deciding to act (or intentionally choosing NOT to act) – inspiring (or getting out of the way of) those seeking to advance.