Yuval Levin, writing in The Wall Street Journal recently, made the observation that, “To govern, at least at the level of the presidency, is to make hard choices among competing options with incomplete information.” While he was referring to the decisions made at the top of our political leadership, the principle is the same in many other environments.
One of the insights I share with my audiences is that decisions don’t have answers, they have outcomes. Yet the menu-driven environment we live in these days is making us think otherwise. You can open up a browser, type in most any question and access hundreds, if not thousands of possible solutions within .6 seconds. Surely, one of them will solve your problem. But there’s the rub – which one?
When it comes to making decisions, it is human nature to seek safety. In other words, “Which one of these possible solutions will be the right one?” But when we think this way, we are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking about the right answer, we should be asking about the best answer. “Best,” however, implies that we have all the information necessary to make the decision. But here’s the bottom line – YOU WILL NEVER HAVE ALL OF THE INFORMATION!
In some cases, this is compounded by competing options that both sound reasonable. Perhaps each one represents an opposing, but valid viewpoint. Maybe you will feel bad no matter which one you choose. Perhaps each one triggers your emotions, but for different reasons. Maybe you know there will be “blowback” no matter what you decide.
I don’t have a three- or five-step solution to this issue. No one does. But after studying effective decision-makers for more than a decade, here’s what I’ve observed:
- They use their intuition to decide when they have enough information to make the decision. Attempting to gather all possible data ends up in analysis paralysis. Once they feel at peace with what their “little voice” is telling them, they move on to the steps ensuring effective implementation.
- They record their reasoning. The best decisions-makers recognize that memories are fleeting. It’s best to create a record of what they decided along with why they made the choices they did. This is helpful if their reasoning is called into question legally, by a supervisor, or perhaps the greater community. They can also reference this record as they make related decisions in the future.
- They anticipate objections. They don’t do this with the expectation of having a response that will mollify every unhappy stakeholder. They do this more to demonstrate that those objections were taken into consideration during deliberations.
- Once they have acted, these individuals don’t dwell on the decision. Instead, they become focused on ensuring proper implementation. If problems arise, they are right there to make adjustments, explain reasoning, and ensure compliance.
- They refuse to allow others’ frustrations, anger, even irrationality to make them rethink the decision. The best decision-makers recognize that management and leadership are not popularity contests. There will almost always be unhappiness among some whom the decision affects. These individuals accept that you can’t be all things to all people.
The best decision-makers make the hard choices. The easy ones have already been made.