Part of the Blog Series: Leadership Principles for Young Professionals.
One of the biggest fears for many young leaders is the fear of making a decision. It’s quite ironic when you look at all the schooling and “education” (I use “education” loosely) that millennials and young professionals have had. With everything that is taught, the confidence to wield that knowledge is anemic. Even worse, the business culture today has created the perception that making the wrong decision is the basis for incompetence; therefore, many people in leadership positions dodge the opportunity to make decisions in an effort to retain the perception of being competent. There are many differences between veterans and civilians due to culture, but being decisive is one of the biggest differences I have witnessed. In order to minimize any fear you may have in making decisions, I will share some tips/perspectives you should consider, which may offer the confidence you need.
Your decision does not have to rely solely on your knowledge, education, or experience alone
Ask for input, opinions, and thoughts from the experience of your team. One thing I learned early as a young officer in the Marines was I was surrounded by a wealth of knowledge and experience. I was held accountable by my leadership for being decisive and executing on my decision, but I did not have to make my decision based on my limited experience. I asked for input from Marines of all levels of experience, including from those with even less experience. After weighing the options presented to me, I then made decisions.
Make sure the environment you set with your people invites them to offer their opinions in order to help you make informed decisions. In addition, set the expectation that though you may not always act on their advice, you value it all the same, because it offers you the opportunity to consider all options that you may not have thought of. Lastly, make sure the expectation is also set that once the decision is made, that is the decision to be executed, and you own it. As you grow in experience and confidence, you will be able to make decisions based off your own knowledge, but as you are learning, be smart enough to ask those who already know.
Know your objectives, boundaries, values, and purpose
One of the biggest flaws I see in decision making, or hinders people’s abilities to make sound and timely decisions, is the lack of knowledge of what the objectives and boundaries are.
Here is a common example: You are a department lead with a list of performance metrics you are evaluated against every quarter or even annually. All you are going to do is to make sure your performance metrics look good in order to get promoted or a raise. When faced with operational decisions, those performance metrics do nothing in regards to informing you on how to decide, or what to decide. Your leadership ends up frustrated, often times, because you did not make a decision the same way they would have. You end up frustrated, and your confidence slowly erodes.
The alternative is to gain a clear understanding of your department’s operational objectives, and how those objectives tie to your higher organization’s mission, vision, strategy, and ultimately purpose. Along with those end states, you also have a clear understanding of the boundaries you are to operate within and standards you are to maintain, not to mention the values your organization practice (If you follow my other posts, you know I write frequently about how morals and values guide decisions and actions). Objectives, boundaries, and values, when made clear and well-practiced, create an environment for decision making. In the Marines, this was the greatest weapon in warfare. Our Marines were empowered to make critical, IMPACTful decisions at the lowest levels, and those Marines were never afraid to make such decisions because they were armed with clarity of objectives, boundaries, values, and purpose.
Now, you may be asking: What if my company does not make these things clear? What I do is become a total pain in the ass about these things. Ask any of my former leaders in consulting. They will attest that I was annoying and relentless if objectives, boundaries, values, and purpose were not clear. I always held myself to this principle of making sound and timely decisions, and knew what I needed to know in order to live this principle. Become a pain in the ass, and hold your leaders accountable in providing the information you need to make decisions.
A bad decision is better than not making a decision at all
The very worst thing you can do is to not make a decision at all. One thing that was beat into our heads (figuratively speaking) was that not making a decision had greater consequences than making a wrong decision. The bottom line in that way of thinking is that action beats inaction. We were taught that we could always correct our decisions on the fly. It was not a dead end, nor did it have finality in it being a wrong decision. I had total confidence that whatever decision I made, I could always make it right if I decided wrong. Ironic, when you consider we were operating in situations of life and death, when in comparison, people in business become more and more paralyzed in their abilities to decide with every increase in the dollars involved. When you are faced with a decision, make one and commit to it. Have faith that you have the knowledge and the abilities to make it the right decision, no matter what.
I’ll leave you with this simple perspective on leadership and decision making: Name one great leader who wasn’t decisive. You can’t be an effective leader if you fear being decisive. Be intimately in-tune with your morals and values, because they are the foundation to each and every leader’s ability to make sound and timely decisions.
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