The Art of Making Decisions That You Can Live With
As a leader within your organization, you are accountable to various stakeholders. Depending on your role, you are accountable to your supervisor, board of directors, or investors. You are also accountable to your peers, direct reports, and customers. If you think even more broadly, you are accountable to your vendors, community, and society at large. With so many people you are accountable to, it can be difficult to know what action you should take when dealing with a complex and important decision. Having a framework can make the decision-making process easier. As you tackle complex problems, I encourage you to define the decision you need to make, explore different perspectives, make values-based decisions, and stick to your commitments.
Define the Decision
Taking the time to explore the different perspectives of those impacted by your decision is a great way identify potential actions you can pursue. Before you can explore different perspectives, you must clarify the decision that you are looking to make. In doing this, you want to define the decision in one sentence with no judgement. By clearly define the decision that is under consideration with no judgement, you open yourself up to see thing more clearly.
Once you have identified the decision, you can begin to explore the perspective of different people that will be impacted. Talking with individuals that represent different perspectives is ideal. When you are short on time an alternative approach is to imagine yourself from the perspective of different stakeholders. By doing this, you can explore how your opinion on what should be done changes based on those perspectives. For example, if you are trying to determine whether to offer better health benefits to employees, you could start by imagining yourself as a middle-aged employee with children. What would they want the company to offer in benefits? Would their opinion be different than a single young professional within the organization? How about your customers? Would they care about the quality of benefits you provide employees? Now consider your Chief Financial Officer or your company’s investors. Would they have a different point of view on what the company should do? By pausing and considering each stakeholders perception on the topic, you expand your thinking, and are better able to see all the potential risks and benefits of your purposed actions.
Make Value-Based Decisions
Once you have taken the time to consider the various perspectives related to your topic, it is time to consider what values you will use to guide your decision making. Leveraging your values when making decisions is crucial. It helps to ensure there is alignment between who you say you are, and the actions you take. People follow leaders that they trust. Being inauthentic is one of the quickest ways to erode trust. When you clearly communicate your values, and use them to guide your actions, people can rely on you being consistent. This consistency promotes psychological safety and encourages trust.
After defining the values, you will use in making your decision, it is time to start brainstorming. As you brainstorm, you want to develop solutions based on the different perspectives that you have identified. Going back to the earlier example, from a middle-aged employee perspective, you might see value in adjusting the benefits package to be the best in the industry, because retirement and health care benefits are more important to you than base salary. From a young professional’s perspective, you may keep things the same, since you see more value in a higher salary than better benefits. From a customer perspective, you may be in favor of better benefits provided it does not lead to increment product or service cost. From the chief financial officer or investor perspective, you may be in favor of improving the benefits if you can reduce other cost, or past the expense on to customers. As you consider these perspectives, you want to bounce the purposed actions, and anticipate impact off your guiding values. This will help you to determine if the actions you are considering resonate with who you want to be as a leader.
For some leaders, making money is a core value, and they will allow this to guide all their actions. For other leaders, fairness is a core value, and they will sacrifice earning in pursuit of this end. Regardless of what your guiding values are, you will only find peace in your decision if the actions you take align with your values. Taking the time to define your values upfront, and then sticking to them through the decision-making process will help you to be at peace with the decisions that you make.
Commit to Action
Once you have aligned on your course of action, it is important to make a commitment to execute your plan. During the brainstorming period, it is great to take in as much information as possible. You should talk to different stakeholders if you can, and get their thoughts on potential solutions, but once a decision is made, you must commit to it. Trust in organization wavers when leaders do not honor their commitments. There is a time for fact and opinion gathering, a time for commitment, and a time for action. As a leader, it is important that you are clear with our organization when each of those time periods start, and when they end. This will give your organization comfort in knowing that you allow for debate but once a decision is made, it is final.
To rise into a leadership role, you must demonstrate to people that you are trustworthy, and that you will take care of their interests. As you move higher within organizations, the number and diversity of the people that you serve increases. This creates both the satisfaction of being able to provide value to more people, the challenge of competing priorities and the burden of making decisions that will result in some people being winners, and other people being losers. When faced with complex problems, it is easy to give in to the loudest voice, or to the stakeholder with the most power. When leaders do this, they typically make decisions that do not align with their values. Non-value-based decision-making leads to inauthenticity, inconsistencies in actions, and an erosion of trust. As a leader you must fight the impulse to move quickly. Being purposeful in defining the decision you need to make, seeking out different perspectives, making value-based decisions, and committing to decisions once they are made, will help you to build a culture that aligns with who you want to be as a leader.
Dorian Cunion is an Executive Business Coach with your Path Coaching and Consulting. He specializes in coaching service for managers, executives and small business owner.
For tips on leadership and professional development follow me:
If you are interested in working with me as a coach, contact me at