The Art of Leadership—Decision Making
Over the years in my leadership positions, I have made numerous decisions, some disastrous and some genius, many more somewhere between the two. I have enjoyed making decisions. The better ones have always been more effective if I follow a process. The following ten decision-making principles constitute a process that has helped me make good decisions in the workplace and beyond.
Realize you are the decision maker
Ah, therein lies one of the biggest scopes of a leader. You have to make decisions. You cannot avoid them! Even not making a decision is a decision, albeit sometimes not necessarily a good one. Some decisions will be easy, some will be hard, some will create challenges for others, some may even offend others, some will be genius, some will be dumb, and some will show you are the greatest leader of all times. But mostly decisions will propel you and/or your organization along the path of success.
Understand both sides of the decision
Perhaps, we should say that you must understand all sides of the decision. Initially, you may think that a “yes” or a “no” decision is in order. In reality, there are other sides of the decision: “Maybe not right now,” “Let’s involve others in the decision-making process,” “Are there aspects we are not seeing?” And many others.
Do your homework
Decision-making constitutes doing your homework, whether it is visiting with others, reviewing the data, digging through the research, contemplating outcomes and workload, debating pros and cons, or acknowledging and ultimately accepting consequences. While doing your homework, you should also realize that your decision must be timely.
Involve others in the decision-making process
You may have to make the final decision, but you should involve the people you have hired in helping you make the decision. If you have hired correctly, they are smart people, more than capable of reviewing with you any challenges that might come because of the decision. They probably can see angles you may not have foreseen. Trust them. Include them. Involving good heads, strong hearts, and good visionaries and pragmatists will always make you a better leader.
Make the decision
Ironically, you have to make the decision. Of course, you will make the decision after you have done your homework, listened to others, and understand the potential consequences. But ultimately, the decision is yours. I know a few so-called leaders who think about it and think about and put off making the decision to the extreme. So, when the decision is finally made, people whose lives and jobs depend on the situation and have done everything in their power to help their leader with the decision have basically downgraded their opinion (s) of the leader. Leaders make decisions. Better stated: Leaders make timely, informed decisions.
Understand the consequence (s) of your decision
Fortunately or unfortunately, there will be consequences to your decision. Many “ouches” will come your way, like ripping off a band aid. It may hurt for a moment or two—maybe even a year or two or even longer—but if you have done your homework, involved others, and made a good decision, then you can and should accept the outcome.
Take ownership of the decision
There will be decisions that will not be good ones. It is inevitable. Instead of blaming others, take full ownership of it. You are/were/will be the ultimate decision maker. If the decision is not a good one, go to the evaluation/assessment component of the process. There may have been an angle you or your team overlooked. Or there may have been an unintended consequence. Do not be afraid to be accountable for the decision. Be sure, though, to give out the appropriate accolades because of a good decision. It will make you a better and a more effective leader.
Assess the decision
Yes, you have to determine whether your decision is a good one. When you brush your teeth with an electric toothbrush, you know that’s a good decision, especially when you go to your six-month checkup, and the dental hygienist tells you your gums are looking good. Assessment should always be a part of the decision-making process. If changes need to occur, then make them, following a similar process you followed with some variation to make the right decision.
Once the decision has been made and you have completed the assessment, continue to follow up to make sure the decision is still a good one and on track toward success. Sometimes, you will have to review and perhaps reevaluate the decision. There is no shame in saying, “Well, that wasn’t the best decision we have ever made. Let’s take another look and try again.”
Do not beat yourself up for the bad decisions
Guess what, bad decisions creep into the leadership equation. Unfortunately, you cannot make good decisions 100% of the time. You can make a zillion good decisions, but often there will be that one decision that may haunt you for the rest of your life. You cannot, however, continue to focus on that bad decision. Why? Because it will be so close in your line of vision that it will obstruct the bigger picture, the vision of what you need to do. The most amazing thing that can happen from making a bad decision is how you turn a bad decision into a good one and move forward. Or maybe even be willing to discard the decision completely. Sometimes, you just have to shake your head a few times and move on.
Decision-making is one of the most challenging aspects of being a leader. It can create heartache and heartburn while simultaneously euphoria and self-satisfaction. The key to good, effective decision-making is this: You have to make them. Just make sure you have done everything you can to make a good decision and then be willing to accept whatever consequence that follows, good or bad.
Darrel L. Hammon, Ph.D.