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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

The Art of Making Decisions

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #159

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"To succeed as a leader, one must confidently manage uncertainty while balancing ethics, urgency, and information."

During a recent conversation with my friend and "thought" partner, Dr. Jay Scott, we exchanged ideas about how leaders make good decisions. The initial question was whether making good leadership decisions is an art or something learned over time. As our discussion progressed, we shifted from discussing the concept to identifying the essential skills involved and, ultimately, the process that drives it all.

Every day, leaders are faced with a constant stream of decisions. They must choose from routine matters to complex issues that require careful consideration. Each decision carries its consequences and effects. Making sound and timely decisions is crucial to being an effective leader.

We all understand the significance of ethics, moral principles, and legality when making decisions. Yet, in addition to these factors, other internal components can influence leaders' choices within an organization. These can include established policies, practices, and procedures that act as a guidebook for decision-making. Leaders need to make decisions that align with both their personal values and the organization's values, as this sets the boundaries for available options. Along with following ethical standards, laws, and values, leaders must consider their decisions' moral implications and potential long-term consequences.

I used to think that making the right choices was straightforward as long as I gathered all the necessary data and stayed true to my principles. However, with experience came the realization that there were often critical pieces of information that I was missing despite my best attempts. This left me with an unanswered question: why wasn't I aware of that crucial detail? It taught me the value of actively seeking and asking the right questions to obtain precise and timely information before making any decisions.

Sometimes, you must decide even when you don't have all the information. But how much information is enough? It's a tricky question, and the answer can vary depending on different factors, with the urgency of the decision being the most crucial one. As leaders, we must carefully weigh the consequences of delaying a decision against the possible benefits of promptly making one. Acting hastily can lead to risky outcomes.

During a crisis or emergency, leaders must act swiftly and make decisions without wasting time on lengthy lists of options. The situation's urgency must be assessed to prioritize the decision-making process based on the potential consequences of delaying action. Quick and decisive action may be necessary for urgent matters, while more intricate choices may require a more deliberate approach. Having a plan or discussing potential scenarios can aid leaders in making immediate decisions. Developing contingency plans for time-sensitive situations can help mitigate risks and offer alternative solutions.

When confronted with the desire to decide without all the pertinent data, there are two critical things to remember. Firstly, ask yourself if you can reverse the decision later in time. Secondly, think about whether the consequences of your choice could be detrimental. If there is room for backtracking and no potential harm, less information and time are necessary as more data can always be incorporated.

Listed below are some questions to keep in mind when faced with decisions.

  1. What is the objective of this decision?

  2. How urgent is it to make this decision?

  3. Do I have all the pertinent information?

  4. What are the ethical and legal considerations?

  5. Who will be impacted by this decision?

  6. Have I sought input from relevant parties or experts?

Jay and I came to the mutual understanding that decision-making is an art that can be refined by honing our skills in this area. While it may not come easily to everyone, one can cultivate this skill with persistent effort and a commitment to learning. Much like any other expertise, it takes dedication and diligence to become proficient. Ultimately, taking the time to consider the ramifications of our decisions is essential for individual growth.

Reflection Questions:

  1. In what ways do my beliefs and values impact my leadership decisions?

  2. How do I manage the conflict between making decisions quickly and thoroughly considering all available information?

  3. How can I effectively convey my decisions to stakeholders?

  4. How can I enhance my decision-making skills?


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