Leadership skills become second nature for many people. But one of the most difficult skills is decision making. There are always numerous factors to consider, impacts to predict, and, simply put, it’s difficult to please everyone from the highest levels. It’s easy for leaders to procrastinate on decision-making or even try to offload the decision to someone else. But an effective decision making strategy is a highly useful leadership tool, so let’s discuss how to make those decisions in a methodical and factual way.
First, let’s discuss how decisions are made. Some leaders may make all decisions alone. This may be based on the individual or the dynamic of the group he or she leads. On the other hand, some leaders do not step into decision-making unless they have their “sounding board” group around them. Before you enter into the decision process, determine how you’ll make your decision. With that said, remember that group decision- making is sometimes highly effective because, let’s face it, none of us has all of the answers.
The first step in decision-making is to clarify the issue at hand. To do this effectively, you must examine the facts surrounding the decision. This sounds simple, but often there is “hype” or emotion surrounding the facts. Your job as a leader and decision maker is to extrapolate the facts from the junk surrounding them. Once you’ve clarified the issue and reduced it to its facts, you must put it in common terms. These terms can be your own terms for ease of understanding, or in terms that are readily understood by the organization. With a clear issue that is easily communicated, you’re ready to move to the next step.
Brainstorm the issue at hand, either alone or with a group. Single person brainstorming tends to be one sided, but at least you can create causes and effects for the decision that needs to be made. On the flip side, a group brainstorming session allows for various points of view and the elaboration of further problems relating to the issue, possible solutions, and possible pros and cons. Once you begin the process of brainstorming, either alone or with a group, write down your thoughts. Put the thought page where you can see it and refer to it as the decision making process is underway. In a group setting, create a dialogue between group members about the decision and be ready to accept other points of view. After a brainstorming session, the possible decisions will probably become clear.
Take the possible decisions and create a list of advantages and disadvantages for each. It sounds simple to create what amounts to a “pros and cons” list, but the method is effective for eliminating possibilities. If a possible decision is heavy on cons and light on pros, it may not be the best decision at the time. If you’re making a decision with a group, be sure that everyone in the group participates on the pros and cons identification – you may achieve clarity where you thought none existed. Even if you finish the pros and cons exercise with a few possible decisions, you’ll still be closer than you were at the beginning.
Next, take all of the “finalists” and map out the consequences. In fact, you may have identified consequences in your pros and cons activity. But analyze the decisions further. Consider using a time line. For example, if we make decision “A”, what will be the result within one week, one month, one year, or five years? Some decisions will require speculation based on current knowledge, but some decisions may be very clear at this point. You must take an extremely analytical approach at this point in your decision making process. One way to do this is to make conclusions such as, “If condition A exists, then situation B will emerge”, or, “if decision A is made, then the result will be actions B, C, and D.”
The last step of methodical decision-making is to make the final decision. After going through this process, your final decision will probably be very clear. But you must be prepared to explain why you’re making the decision. And you must be able to back it up with facts. The fact-basis of decision-making cannot be underestimated. If there is any emotion in the support for the decision, you may need to consider going back to the drawing board.
Decision-making is difficult, but these five steps will help you obtain clarity, fact, and a clear path to the decision itself.