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Making Smart Decisions

How do leaders make smart decisions?  Careful, reflective self and organizational awareness in decision making is a sound investment for an organization and its leaders.  This investment requires a great deal of attention and reflection by team participants and leaders.  Leadership researchers and authors talk about sound decision making depending on our own attention to psychological traps, cognitive biases, and the lessons and learnings from fabulous failures.  All of this work takes time and requires leaders to be self-aware and cultivate permissive learning environments in the workplace.  As I reflect on my own leadership, I’ll explore the conditions under which I am best and worst prepared to make smart decisions.  You might consider the how you are best and worst prepared to make smart decisions.

First of all, when I am most self-aware for decisions and cultivate permissive learning environments for the teams I lead, I am grounded in good rest, self-care, relational health and spiritual centering.  I am clear about my role in the larger organization and have a strong grasp of its mission and vision.  I feel supported in risk-taking and courageous leadership by my superiors.  I have found, in these special and even rare times, that I am usually working with a coach and/or strong mentor.  It’s for this reason, that I am certified as a professional coach for others now.   Having a trained and certified professional coach who encourages and facilitates our professional growth makes a world of difference in our ability to make smart and reflective decisions.

To the converse, the conditions under which I am least prepared to make smart decisions is when I am unclear about my role in the organization or uncertain about its mission.  This can lead me into many of the traps in decision making.  By being unclear about the vision of the organization or my role in it, I can fall into the trap of neglecting to understand the decision in the wider context.  Then (not a surprise to anyone who knows me), I move into the overconfidence trap that I know enough about the context of the organization and the accuracy of the decision.  At that point, my awareness is limited and I am in no position to make a good decision.

I also am less prepared to make good decisions when I’m tired and/or not careful with my personal and relational health.  Usually this occurs when I’m far too busy and rushed in decision making.  Frequently, out of the urgency to make a hasty decision, I’ll practice what some researchers describe as “anchoring,” when I’ll accept or rely too heavily on one piece of information in making my decision.  Too often, that will be the loudest voice, the cheapest data, or the presenting “symptom” rather than the root issue.   As an alternative, I constantly look to mentor leaders who practice non-anxious leadership with healthy self-differentiation with the organization and the issues they face.  My lifetime of leadership is one of constantly growing and moving to be more like these mentor leaders.

As a leader, I am constantly growing in my awareness of how I think, and the context under which I think has such a profound impact on the ways decisions are made in the organizations where I lead.  It is critical to cultivate the rich soil for growing my awareness through self-care, reflection, groundedness and self-differentiation.  Here are some questions for your decision-making reflection:

  • What are the conditions under which you are best prepared to make good decisions? How are you creating those conditions for those whom you lead?
  • What are the conditions under which you are least prepared to make good decisions? What resources do you mobilize to mitigate those conditions?
  • Who models good decision-making in your organization? How can you learn from them?
  • Name 2 or 3 concrete actions that you can take to move toward better decision-making. Who will help you be accountable for those actions?

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