Decisions, Decisions (Part 1)

An executive is a person who always decides; sometimes he decides correctly,
but he always decides.  
--John H. Patterson

Leaders make decisions. The quality of those decisions determines the effectiveness of the leader and the organization. Given the importance of making great decisions, how can a leader enhance the quality of his or her decisions?

Over the years, I've refined my decision-making process, and suggest that you may want to apply many of these same steps when you have to make important decisions.

First, determine the amount of time you have to make a decision. In the event of a casualty situation, decision-making time may be extremely short, and therefore you need to act quickly on limited information. If your house is on fire, it's a quick and easy decision to immediately call 911. When I faced engineering drills on a nuclear submarine or led Epcot on 9/11, I had to make immediate choices. You gather as much information as fast as you can, and then rely on your experience and training to make the best decision possible.

Often, though, people are pressured into making hasty decisions by artificial deadlines. "If you don't buy this house/car/boat today, it will be gone, and you never get as good a deal!" Salespeople and marketers attempt to create urgency, which often leads to poor decisions: "Limited time deal!" "Order in the next five minutes and get a 20% discount!" When I've been pressured for an "immediate answer," I simply say "If you want an answer immediately, then the answer is No." You then typically find out that there was no real immediacy, and you can agree on a more reasonable timeframe. Don't be pressured into making a decision before you feel comfortable with the decision and potential outcome.

A second key factor is the importance of a decision. If a choice has minimal impact, make it quickly based on your experience—don't agonize over it. For example, you don't need to go through an extensive decision-making process to pick up a pack of gum at the grocery story, but you might want to complete a thorough evaluation before you purchase a large screen television.

You can also remove the need to make many smaller decisions by standardizing your routine. You won't have to "decide" to exercise every day if you have planned for it in your daily routine.

Next week, we will talk more about the decision-making process and what to do once you've made that decision.

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