Removing the Doubt from Decision-Making

Posted by Joseph Sherren on January 26, 2016

I recently had a tough decision to make regarding a business venture. On the upside, it was a potential opportunity to considerably increase revenues. On the downside, it would consume substantial resources and precious personal time.

As leaders, one of the top daily activities is to make smart decisions. Yet how can we know we’re making the right decision when we live in the world where there are no absolutes? Many of these decisions are urgent; others strategic; some can even be life changing. But most importantly, decisions must be made in a timely manner. The right decision made too late becomes a bad decision.

Often, I see managers who are decision-averse. They wait too long and then make a decision by default, which they later regret. Even making no decision is still a decision. To compound matters, we often make decisions based on our confirmation bias. Using our pre-programmed mental conditioning, we do not even question or explore alternatives.

The number one reason why most managers fail is because they make poor choices that lead to bad decisions. In some cases, they compound that bad decision with more bad decisions.

It is impossible to separate good leadership from decision-making. Whether you like it or not, the two are unavoidably connected. Managers who rise to senior positions in the organization, do so largely based upon their ability to consistently make sound decisions in a timely manner.

For managers to get promoted into senior positions, it may take years and years of consistent sound decision-making. But as many of you have experienced, one bad decision can end your career.

So, how can managers increase their decision-making ability? First, by knowing the three value-based decision-making styles and understanding their most preferred. These are as follows:

  1. Deontologists. “Deon” is a Greek word meaning duty. These people are duty-bound and see everything as black or white, right or wrong. They are what we call absolutists, always wanting to follow the rule and never bend policies.  Deontologists require lots of raw data, facts, statistics, and flow charts. They will want to study policies, practices, and moral laws.
  2. Teleologists. “Tele” is another Greek word meaning far off, in the distance; such as tele-commute, telephone, tele-seminar. They primarily make decisions based on what they see as the better outcome at some point in the future.  Teleologists will want to examine case studies, do what-if scenarios, and collect lots of prior history. They think of themselves as part of the bigger business community and try to consider the well-being of others.
  3. Situationalists make decisions based on just the merits of the current situation before them right now. If they had the same decision to make again in the future, it might be totally different because some of the particulars might have changed.

Using any one of these three styles on their own can produce a flawed decision. Each constituency must be considered equally; but above all, you must trust your gut instincts. Even when refined information and solid analytics are available, your instincts can often provide a very valuable check against the reasonability or biases of those other inputs.

My question for leaders this week: “What process do you use to make a critical, strategic, business or life decision?”


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