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Decision Making is a Primary Skill for Leaders

Three Reminders for Better Decisions

"Research shows that enterprises fail [because] they neglect the most powerful drivers of effectiveness -- decision rights and information flow." - Neilson, Martin, and Powers Harvard Business Review

Decision making seems to make all the difference in business. I have come to this conclusion after observing lots of really bright people in my programs and seminars have wildly different results. They get different results even when presented with much the same set of parameters and opportunities.


The difference seems to be decision making.


For example, in a simulation, many participants ask with a twinkle in their eye, "What do you have to do to win this thing?"


I always give a straightforward answer, "Work well as a team and make great decisions."


They usually find this answer unsatisfactory. Yet, that is indeed what seems to make all the difference. I believe they are assuming that there is a set of 'right' answers for the simulation and that if they had them, they'd win.


Simulations, like life, are more complex than that.


In our newest learning program, Decision Mojo from Ten Thousand Feet, LLC., participants learn some essential lessons about what makes for effective decision making. A number of big and small lessons occur to our participants. Sometimes, they learn what they assumed about decision making has been incorrect. A face palm moment, if you will.


Here are three reminders for leaders of all types to keep in mind. These reminders will help you make better decisions:

Balance intuition and reason. To make your decision making a purely rational process is a mistake. Our intuitive brains pick up cues MUCH faster than our rational brains. Learn to trust that intuition has a place in your decision making.

Avoid cognitive traps. We cannot be perfect, nor should we try to be. However, knowing the traps we fall into, like sunk cost, confirming evidence, anchoring, and others, can help us work to avoid them. Here's a great article summarizing the traps we explore in Decision Mojo.

Apply decision making discipline. We must act differently if we are to get different results. That's reasonable. So, if we want to improve our decision making we must change how we do it. One significant but somewhat simple discipline is to define "Who has the Decision?" In our seminar, we say "Who has the D?" This is an essential decision role question to answer. Without it, you may be wasting your time. Our seminar participants borrow this language and use it as needed back at the office. It's pretty cool to hear.


In an HBR Classic from 2008, The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution, Nielson and the other authors suggest that success and change are about "Decision Rights" and "Information Flow." I couldn't agree more.


So, it's not just that we have a great strategy, communicate a clear organizational chart, hire the best people and launch innovative products. It's about decision making and our decision processes. Nobody has all the answers, but these few principles can help you tremendously.


Apply them and you'll win this thing.


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