How to Make Smarter Decisions

Decision-making is difficult, especially when it involves complex factors. Even if we are smart and diligent, when it comes to settling on a course of action we resort to delaying tactics or blaming others to duck responsibility for fear of being seen as "wrong." Answers are not usually immediate. Here are some questions to help guide you to a resolution.

1. What is the basic issue that you have to address and resolve?
2. Do you have to make this decision alone?
3. Do you have all (or enough) of the information you need?
4. Who, inside or outside of your organization, can you consult?
5. Have you dealt with a similar issue in the past? Looking back, would you resolve it differently?
6. Do you have a track record of making bad decisions? Do you know why? What do you need to change?
7. Do you rely too heavily -- or not heavily enough -- on experts' opinions?
8. If the stakes appear too high, is there a good compromise to settle on, giving you a safety net?
9. Whose style of decision-making to you admire and why?
10. If you were to set your alarm to ring in ten minutes, what would your decision be then?

To be recognized as a leader, you have to display the confidence to make excellent decisions. I've observed, however, that there is a gender divide when it comes to decision-making. Mostly, women tend to assume they don't know enough to make a decision, whereas men, generally speaking, believe they do. A woman is likely to say that her good decisions are due to luck and her bad ones due to incompetence. A man is apt to dismiss his failures as bad luck and credit his successes to his talent. Men feel more confident to make choices, while women who fear failing and being found out avoid making the final call.

I don't mean to imply that men always resolve work issues successfully. In fact, some, in their zeal to be decisive, leap to wrong conclusions. But typically at work, you aren't penalized nearly so harshly for making a poor decision as for not making any decision at all. Think about it: When a referee makes a call that directly opposes the crowd's view, he is neither disregarded nor fired. Occasional arbitrariness is accepted as part of the game. If your recommendations are well-founded but not borne out for some reason, your boss isn't likely to blame you. However, avoiding your responsibility and failing to make a deadline are cardinal sins that few managers can stand.

To help conquer your fear of decision-making, consider your behavior more objectively. If you have a history of making poor choices, can you recognize an underlying pattern? When you look back at the winning choices you have made, did you stumble on the answers, or did they come up only after much research and deliberation? Compare your success rate when you relied on others with that when you relied more on your own instincts. This will give you more real data to reframe your internal thinking from "I've been lucky" to "I've been smart."

Many people who procrastinate rely on information too much, thinking it will yield the single "right" answer. That is rarely the case. Most of the time, an answer isn't clear-cut. Instead, it's up to you to forecast and weigh potential gains against possible losses. Which would be worse: losing out on, say, a profitable product line or committing to a losing one?

To reach a difficult decision, you might try a compromise and hedge your bets by building in a safety net. You can also ask yourself what you would recommend if you had to deliver your report in ten minutes. You might just discover that you already know the answer, just lack the confidence to act on it.

Ultimately, you might have to hazard a guess. If so, take comfort in the fact that it's an educated one, one that comes with no guarantees. After all, managing decision-making requires taking responsible risks, which, in turn, leads to greater rewards.

Make your luck happen!