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How Good Leaders Approach Decision Making

A lot of people struggle with decision-making as the same three pesky questions come up again and again.

1. What will happen if I do this or that?
2. What will others think of my decision (or more precisely, of me)?
3. What if I’m wrong?

Of course there’s anxiety surrounding these questions because the answers are impossible to know until some action is taken. Once the action is taken, these answers become clear, although not necessarily immediately. In the face of the unknown, fearful imaginations can create some dire outcomes!

There’s a better way to approach decision-making.

Imagine that you’re confronting a puzzle made up of three big pieces. The first is context. Context is the setting within which the decision rests. To get a handle on context, answer these questions: Where are you and what’s going on relative to the decision? What factors weigh on the decision? What freedoms do you have; what limitations exist? What is your role in the decision and what stake do you have in the outcome? How are others involved and how will they be affected?

Context is important because most people like to repeat what has worked for them in the past. When it fails in a different setting, they get confused and sometimes upset. They tend to blame circumstances or the people around them for the failure because they remember that it worked before. Had they taken time to consider the context of the decision, they might have made a different call.

Using salty language in a locker room to buck up a team at halftime makes sense. Using the same language and attitude in a church service would be unthinkable. Context informs behavior.

The second piece of the puzzle is feedback. Feedback measures behavior by providing evidence of a reaction. Whether it comes from people, systems, reports, or your body, feedback answers the question, “What will happen?”

A simple illustration that everyone has experienced involves dieting. Feedback comes in many forms when you eat. In the short-term bodily systems respond; in the longer term your clothes continue to fit well or not, you stay healthy or get sick, you feel happy or sad about your appearance.

Feedback is always available. Whether you notice it or learn from it is entirely up to you.

The third piece of the puzzle is behavior. In this case, the behavior is your decision. As mentioned, context informs behavior and feedback measures it. A locker room and a church are two very different contexts that generally evoke different behavior. Most people are conscious of the adjustments they make in these types of arenas. Then again, there is evidence to suggest that some behavior is becoming impervious to context. I’m thinking of cell phone usage.

Behavior also has the power to change context. Think of competitive moves in the marketplace and how the overall game or context can be altered. Breakthrough innovation and disruptive change are highly visible behaviors, but secret alliances can be powerful context changers as well. If you’re watching for feedback, you’ll catch on to these changes much more quickly. You can then choose to adjust your own behavior as quietly or publicly as you like.

Context, feedback and behavior are intertwined. What you see is not always what you get and perception may or may not be reality. When faced with important decisions, it pays to take time to understand the context, watch for feedback, and adjust your behavior to get the results you want.

It also pays to remember that with every decision you make, these elements will be repositioned and ready for your next choice.

Categories: Leadership

About Susan Marshall

Susan A. Marshall is author, speaker and founder, whose mission is to create a stronger, more confident future, one person or team at a time.  Through personal experience and hands-on work with executives from diverse industries at all levels, Susan has had the privilege of helping thousands of people do the difficult and exhilarating work of growth.