Guide to Decision Making as a Leader
A great leader is a great decision-maker. When you can properly identify problems, acknowledge biases, and make the right choices, even while under immense pressure, it oozes strong leadership. The confidence and diligence you put behind your decisions will be noted by your team members, who are always watching, evaluating, and learning from your actions. So, what can you do to enhance your decision-making skills?
Well, making decisions as a leader is a multifaceted issue that requires you to confront preexisting beliefs and not freeze when it’s time to act. In this guide, I’m going to walk you through the ins and outs of the decision-making process, including influential factors and steps you can take to improve your effectiveness and timeliness. So, let’s get into it!
What is Decision Making?
Decision making is a cognitive process that requires individuals to use reasoning in order to select between different beliefs and courses of action. We use this process on a daily basis, from deciding on the clothes we wear to the way we handle social interactions to the jobs we work at. Right now, you’re consciously and subconsciously making dozens of choices that dictate who you are and what you do.
Not all decision making is the same. Some people tend to rely on intuition, others depend more on logic and evidence, and some people use a mix of both. No matter which strategy is implemented, they each result in a final choice that either leads to taking action or not taking action.
At times, making decisions as a leader can be extremely challenging, especially when people’s lives are affected by your choices. So, let’s look at some red flags that prevent confident decision making.
What Prevents Confident Decision Making?
After years of working with leaders in various industries, I’ve found common threads that result in a lack of confidence and decisiveness in decision-making processes, which negatively impacts performance in the workplace.
Here are the five most common problems to avoid:
Failing to make a decision: Not making a decision is still a decision, even if it’s not on purpose. Failing to step up during turbulent times, when your team is looking for you to steer them to safety, will undermine your competence and reputation as a leader.
Misidentifying the problem or purpose: When you don’t take the time to step back and identify what’s truly causing a problem, it’s impossible to make practical solutions. Making decisions as a leader means understanding the big picture and addressing root causes.
Appealing to the collective: Being faced with making controversial decisions is an inevitable part of leadership. Although it’s a challenging task, confident leaders won’t let the fear of criticism stop them from making the right choice, even if it’s unpopular with senior-level employees (a great skill to learn is how to deliver unfavorable news in a favorable way).
Limited options: The right solution isn’t always the first or most convenient option. If you fail to explore all potential solutions, you’ll limit your choices and potentially miss uncovering the best solution for the circumstance. When it comes to making decisions as a leader, the more options you have, the better!
Mistaking opinions as facts: Biases will always try to interrupt the decision-making process and turn your attention away from facts and evidence. If you’re not careful and operate without a structured framework, certain biases will influence your choices.
The Biases That Affect Decisions
Studies have shown that more than 90% of our thoughts are processed automatically rather than reflectively. That means the subconscious mind, where our biases live, is usually in control of how we think and come to decisions.
Here are common biases that influence our thoughts:
We’re drawn to people who are similar to us. In the interview process, the candidate who shares our interests, sense of humor, and goals is going to be far more attractive than the person we have nothing in common with, even if they are better for the job. The similarity bias always encourages us to make comfort decisions, not necessarily the best ones.
Everyone sees the world through their own lens, and it’s all too easy to forget that your perspective isn’t more valuable than someone else’s. When making decisions as a leader, it’s crucial to put yourself in others’ shoes and incorporate their views and experiences into your choices.
Just like the similarity bias, we’re drawn in by information that supports our belief systems. Think about social media. You’re far more likely to click on videos and articles that reinforce your positions on certain issues than content with opposing views.
Our brains crave certainty and despise uncertainty. Sometimes the desire, or pressure, to make a decision and be finished with the process prevents us from gathering the necessary information and facts that could have led to a better choice. Making decisions as a leader requires you to fight against these urges and be methodical, no matter the situation.
We like making safe decisions. In fact, research has shown that we prefer not losing money more than gaining it–interesting, right? This preference toward safety may keep us out of trouble now and again, but it can also hold us back from taking risks and going for it.
4 Steps to Improve Making Decisions as a Leader
- Discuss Biases in Decision Making – In order to deal with biases, you have to bring them to the surface and confront them. Being aware of your biases and practicing self-discipline while making decisions as a leader is going to benefit you and everyone in the workplace.
- Look at Past Decisions – Go through your history of recent decisions and look for trends and patterns of biases. If you notice any, which is likely, be cognizant of them in your future decisions.
- Pay Attention to Decisions Made by Others – Pay attention to how others make decisions. Notice if they are falling victim to biases or actively trying to overcome them. Without judging, make mental notes of the biases and mitigation tactics being used.
- Use Reflective Thinking – Making decisions as a leader requires discipline. Remind yourself that learning how to deal with biases and finding the right decision-making strategies takes time, but it’s nothing you can’t handle!
As a leader, you must make decisions–good decisions. If you don’t, well then, your ship is going to be blown off course. The good news is that with a little attentiveness and the implementation of new tactics, you can restructure the way you tackle problems and find solutions. The more you study and analyze your biases, the more confidence you’ll have in making decisions as a leader. So, be willing to challenge yourself and make the effort to become the confident decision-maker and competent leader you know you can be.
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