A confused young man went to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist intently listened to his patient and then offered his insight.
“It appears to me you have trouble making decisions. Would you agree?”
The young man pondered for a moment and then responded, “Well, yes and no.”
Many people struggle with making decisions. Whether the issue is personal or professional, the inability to decide on a course of action can ruin relationships or careers.
“Inability to make decisions is one of the principal reasons executives fail,” said leadership guru John Maxwell. “Deficiency in decision-making ranks much higher than lack of specific knowledge or technical know-how as an indicator of leadership failure.”
Remember the time-tested adage: Not to make a decision is a decision. Or as the always entertaining Yogi Berra put it, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
To make better decisions, or to teach employees to do so, try this counterintuitive approach: Assume that whatever decision you make will be wrong. If you have a choice between several options, just ask yourself which alternative you would regret most.
This will help you identify the option that, even if wrong, would cause you the fewest problems. You may not arrive at the perfect answer, but you’ll at least identify the decision you can live with most comfortably.
Here’s a perfect example. General Dwight Eisenhower struggled mightily with the timing for D-Day because he could not make up his mind about the best moment for the attack. The strategy had been planned for years, but it came down to the weather conditions. The airborne attack needed a full moon and the navy needed low tide.
He had teams of meteorologists advising him, who determined that June 5 would be disastrous because of a looming storm. The weight of the decision was enormous for the more than 150,000 Allied troops involved.
Finally, he came to a decision to postpone the operations for a day. “No matter what the weather looks like, we have to go ahead now. Waiting any longer could be even more dangerous. So let’s move it.” As the history books tell us, the June 6, 1944, attack marked a historic shift in World War II.
Few of us will ever face such a momentous decision. But for many day-to-day problems, we must recognize that there is a point at which we need to take a leap of faith, because there comes a point after that when the right decision becomes the wrong decision because it was made too late.
Consider these basic strategies for making good decisions most of the time:
- List the pros and cons. This is a time-honored practice, but it’s still useful. Document the reasons for and against each option. Don’t make it an election – one strong factor on the “yes” side can outweigh a dozen items on the “no” side. Sort out the issues and determine which way the facts and your emotions point.
- Take other people’s reactions and needs into account. You might not make everyone happy, but you want people to know you didn’t ignore their feelings. Warning: What’s popular isn’t always right, and what’s right isn’t always popular!
- Visualize the work. Develop a step-by-step list of what you’ll actually need to do to reach your objective, and then picture yourself doing it. Will you be happy (or at least satisfied) along the way?
- Start with a small step. Before implementing a decision, try working on one specific aspect of it. Can you do a good job? Or do you suddenly notice problems you hadn’t anticipated? A test run can tell you a lot about whether or not a course of action is right for you.
- Don’t waste time. Take action once you’re confident you’ve acquired the information you need.
- Be decisive. Stick to your decision once you’ve made it. Change it only if the situation shifts. Take responsibility for your decisions.
- Rely on your values. It is so much easier to make decisions when you have values that help you set guidelines for your decision-making.
You will occasionally second-guess yourself, and you might make a bad decision from time to time. But Robert H. Schuller’s sage advice will help you: “Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass.”
Mackay’s Moral: A good decision is the best thing you’ll ever make.