Four decision making mistakes to avoid

Being able to make good decisions, at all levels of your organization, is vital to your company’s success.

It’s also vital to your professional and personal success, no matter who you are or what you do.

Decision making skill, one of the top ten characteristics of great leaders, is more difficult than many people realize.

Consider this thought:

“Some problems are so complex that you have to be…well-informed just to be undecided about them.”

Laurence J. Peter

Great decisions can have deep, lasting and positive effects on many people.

Think about the far-reaching impact of these three decisions:

  • Columbus’ decision to seek the New World
  • John F. Kennedy’s decision that the US would land a man on the moon, and do so before the decade was out
  • Rosa Parks’ decision not to give up her seat on the bus one day in Montgomery, Alabama

Poor decision quality is equally powerful, but in undesirable ways. It can have devastating effects on people, organizations, and even entire countries.

Here’s just one example (and there are many, including many current examples):

Think about the impact on US and world financial markets of a few false assumptions about market risk and how to best manage it in 2008 (and in the years leading up to it). In addition, what was deemed adequate oversight of financial institutions turned out not to be.

It all added up to very big, very bad, very sudden surprises for many people and institutions, with long-term repercussions.

What are some of the primary problems?

Here are just a few:

1. Being unable to decide without a lot of information.

And then, being unable to swim one’s way through the sea of data, information and opinions to reach a valid, effective and timely decision.

2. Being decisive – but too much so.

Decision-makers may reach conclusions quickly, based on too little information, or inaccurate, deceptive, or untimely information.

3. Simplifying information so much that it’s stripped of significance.

Data and information may be overly simplified – or it may be unwieldy.

Either way, it may be difficult to synthesize information, or to understand the deeper meaning the data could have provided. In addition, it may not be possible to draw meaningful conclusions with information stripped of significant detail.

4. Disowning one’s decisions.

This can occur if a leader fears the pushback that naturally happens at some point in almost every change or transition process, and then overreacts to it.

We’ve touched on significant ways that decisions can go wrong.

How can decision making go right?

First, great leaders ensure that they have the reliable, accurate, timely information that they need.

And they make sure that their process for making decisions is effective and continually improved, as needed.

These are characteristics of good decisions:

  • Timely
  • Well-informed
  • Take into account the needs and desires of the various people who will be most affected by the outcomes
  • Prioritize and use criteria that will yield a good result

Decision making comes easily to some people, but for others, it is a continuing challenge.

These skills can be learned and improved, with focus and practice. And they are absolutely, positively essential for leadership excellence. 

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