The Decisions You Make, Make You

Research shows that the average person makes 35,000 decisions…a day! Assuming 7 hours of sleep each day that leaves 17 hours. That makes for a little over 2000 decisions an hour or one decision every two seconds. 

After seeing that research the first decision I made was to decide the researchers must be nuts. If we’re all making 35,000 decisions a day then we can’t be doing anything else. But then I made another decision to read a bit further. The article said decisions include things like deciding to read further in an article. Deciding to ignore a text notification while reading. Deciding to shift my position in the chair I was reading in. 

So whether we really make 35,000 decisions a day or not, it became clear to me that we make a whole lot more decisions than we are actually aware of. Some of those decisions have very little impact on our lives. Others have a major impact. And many, perhaps very many, we won’t understand their impact for years. 

I suspect many of the “outcomes” of our decisions we never tie back to a decision at all. But this much I’m certain of…the better the decisions we make the better the life we make as well. 

We make many huge decisions without ever considering the impact and consequences they could, or will, have on our lives. That’s because we often don’t realize how big some of our everyday decisions are.

For example, the decision about the people you allow into your life. You are the compilation of the five people you most frequently interact with. Yet for most of us we never even consider the influence other people have on our lives. We allow negative people, people who procrastinate, people who find a problem with every solution into our lives and then wonder why we struggle to be the person we want to be. 

If you want to be more successful then hang out with successful, positive and supportive people. 

I see salespeople all the time who when deciding to make one more sales call on a given day or knock off early they choose knocking off early. That’s a terrible choice in most every case. They limit their success, they limit their career and they limit their income. Salespeople who make that poor choice even a handful of times a month will need to work years to make up the lost income. But when deciding when their day will end they almost never consider the long-term consequences. 

The first step to making better decisions is realizing how many decisions you actually make. 

Little decisions, like deciding between a plain Hershey Bar or a Hershey Bar with Almonds won’t be life altering. But it’s likely that more decisions than you think will indeed have a long-term impact on your life. The most successful people consider the consequences of the consequences before making those decisions. 

You are potentially one choice away from a completely different life. There are two types of people in the world, those who believe their life is largely the sum of their choices and those who believe their life is chosen for them by the lottery of circumstances. 

If you don’t believe that then it’s likely you’re in the second group. If you’re interested in success that’s not the group you want to be in. 

Accept responsibility for your choices and you’ll be accepting responsibility for your life. 

A Guaranteed Wrong Decision

I was asked years ago to do a Goal Setting workshop for a group of High School Seniors. We were talking about short term goals and I asked how many of the students were planning on attending college in the fall. 

The answers were varied but one stood out. The student said they had not yet decided about attending college in the fall so they were taking a year off school and then they would decided. I replied “so you’ve decided to not attend this fall.” They again said that had not yet decided about college in the fall so they were taking a year to “review their options” and then decide. So I gave the same reply. I added that by not deciding they had decided. They would not be attending college in the fall. 

The young student was frustrated with my answer. They were certain that they had not yet made a decision. But in fact the decision had been made. 

You may be tempted to cut the student a little slack given their age of lack of experience with making big decisions. Except the inability to make decisions has little to do with age or experience. 

It has to do with confidence. It has to do with being okay with failing once in a while. It has to do with the willingness to suffer the consequences of make wrong decisions. It has to do with with having the discipline to try again. And maybe again and again. 

People who can’t make a decision, or more likely, won’t make a decision, fail to understand that not making a decision IS a decision. It’s a decision to not change, to not take action, or it’s a decision to cling to a past mistake because you invested so much time in making the mistake. 

Not making a decision is guaranteed to be a wrong decision. I maintain actually making a decision that turns out to be wrong is often easier to fix than no decision because at least you’re now certain what doesn’t work. 

When you’re making a big decision and you’re not sure what to do then break the big decision into a series of smaller ones and do the next right thing to do. No matter how little that “right thing” is you’ll be creating momentum towards the big decision. You’ll be making progress and progress is always a good thing to make. 

If you think you truly can’t decide between a couple of options then simply flip a coin. I can promise you when that coin is in the air you’ll know exactly how you want it to land. Then, regardless of how the coin actually lands, you’ll know which option to choose. 

That may sound silly but it works amazingly well. But in order to find out for yourself you do have to decide to try it out. 

You Could be Wrong

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you know that my first job in management came as quite a shock to me. I was a very good salesperson until one day I was pulled into the office and asked if I would be interested in jumping several levels of management to become the General Sales Manager. 

I wasn’t actually sure what the General Sales Manager did but I did know the job came with a new car, a huge office with a private bathroom and a whole lot more money. Lots and lots of money. 

So of course I said yes and the following Monday I was in charge of a large sales organization. I didn’t let the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing keep me from doing it. We were selling soda pop and I sold more than anybody. How tough could it be to make sure everyone else was selling all they could too.

To say I made a few mistakes would be a rather large understatement. The worst part was everyone but me could see the mistakes coming from a mile away. I might have been a little too proud to ask the more experienced people for help but eventually I made the sales organization more of a democracy so others could share their ideas. But I made the final call because I was the boss and that’s what bosses do. 

Shortly after I was promoted I faced the biggest decision I would ever make in my new role. There were two major convenience store chains in the city where I was working. Vendors in both of those chains paid for the best shelf space. I only had the budget to purchase “eye level”  cooler space in one of the chains. The chains appeared to be about the same to me so I very strategically picked the chain with a location closest to my house. 

We would still have shelf space in the other chain’s stores but it would be “bottom shelf. ” Customers would have to look long and hard to find our products. 

My decision looked good for a few weeks. A few weeks. Just 3 weeks after making the agreement with one convenience chain it was acquired by the chain I decided not to make an agreement with. 

The chain that did the acquiring tossed all the vendor contracts from the chain they acquired. That meant in every major convenience store in a large metropolitan area, my products were now all bottom shelf. 

I was pretty lucky that my boss didn’t think that disaster was my fault. He chalked it up to bad luck and we agreed there was no way I could have seen that coming. But to this day I suspect I could have seen it coming. I know for a fact I should have seen it coming. 

I managed to mitigate much of the damage with some new sales programs and by out hustling the competition. I also learned a ton about making decisions, making mistakes, and “fixing” poor decisions. 

But what I learned most of all is to accept the fact that I could be wrong. About almost anything. That meant that people I disagreed with could be right. About almost anything. 

Authentic Leaders must make confident decisions based on the facts they have available. They must also be open to discover new facts that become available and have the courage to change a decision based on the new information. 

Leaders who cannot accept that one of their decisions may need to be changed are very limited leaders. Leaders who refuse to accept that they could be wrong have no ability to learn from their mistakes. Leaders who believe that accepting responsibility for a poor decision is a weakness will never fully have the trust of their people. 

Leaders who do not have the trust of their people are leaders in name only. For anyone hoping to truly lead making a mistake need not be fatal, refusing to admit that mistake most often is. 

Listening to You

There’s a pretty good chance that everything you know to be true isn’t. “Knowing” things that you really don’t know will get you in as much trouble, or maybe more, then not knowing about them at all.

The good news is that there also is a pretty good chance that you know stuff that you don’t even know you know.

The stuff you know that you don’t know you know is sometimes called intuition or instinct. I think psychologists would say that it’s actually things you’ve learned that your conscious mind has forgotten but your subconscious mind hasn’t.

Leaders who lead in difficult times trust those instincts. They also know that they could be wrong about most anything so they verify what they “know” to be true. In order to do either of those you must work with a wide open mind.

When you’re unsure of anything it’s good leadership practice to seek out advice from those you trust. Listen to them. When you’re sure of something it’s a good idea to listen to opposing viewpoints too, if only to determine if others are as sure as you. This is when an open mind is particularly important.

Great leaders have open minds, they seek out advice and then act. They may or may not follow the advice of others. They listen to everyone and everyone includes themselves.

Don’t forget, your instincts could be spot on. Just because you don’t remember learning something doesn’t mean your entire brain has forgotten it too.

Listen to yourself. Trust your instincts and trust your gut. Your experience will not mislead you, your experience has no motive of its own. Using your personal experience to make decisions shows that you can learn from your successes AND your mistakes.

So go ahead and seek the guidance of others but seek your own guidance too. When you listen to you it’s possible you’re listening to the one person who can help you the most.

You most likely know more than you think you do, but remember, no one knows it all.

Tough Decisions

There are many characteristics that make a leader. One of the most important is good judgment, especially when making tough decisions. Poor decision making can make small problems big and cause big problems to become fatal.

The tendency of weak leaders is to put off decisions as long as possible. Sometimes it’s actually possible to put off a decision forever. Except it’s not really possible.

What weaker leaders don’t seem to understand is that not making a decision IS a decision. It’s a decision not to decide and that particular decision is almost always a bad decision.

Other leaders, even good leaders, want to wait to make a decision until they have as much information as possible to make a correct decision. That’s good thinking…except when it isn’t.

The very best leaders are prepared to make decisions even when they don’t have all the information they wish they had. They are prepared to make decisions even when the information they use to make those decisions changes every day.

They use past experience as reference points and their “gut instincts” to make the best decision possible at the time the decision needs to be made. They don’t only do that with small or easy decisions. In fact oftentimes they have to make the tough decisions, even the toughest decisions, without all the information they wish they had.

But Authentic Leaders make the decision anyway.

Authentic Leaders know that it’s easier to fix a wrong decision than it is to fix no decision. A real decision causes action to be taken and that action can be adjusted as many times as a fast changing situation may require. No decision is a decision to not take action and that inertia becomes more difficult to overcome the longer it persists.

It takes a ton more fuel to get a plane in the air than it does to keep it there. Changing course also requires far less energy than taking off. So it is with decisions too. Once you’ve made a real decision you’re in motion and motion begets motion.

Authentic Leaders make tough decisions. Many of them don’t enjoy having to do that but they make those decisions anyway. They know some of their decisions will be wrong but most of them, especially the big ones, will be right.

Don’t delay when it comes to making a decision. The moment you have enough information to make a decision make it. If you don’t have enough information to make a decision and a decision must still be made then make the decision.

Somewhere inside all of us is the ability to make good decisions. Authentic Leaders reach within themselves and bring that ability to the surface. That “reach” begins with a willingness to risk being wrong. It includes an understanding that a wrong decision gives a leader more control over a situation than no decision at all.

Don’t try to hide behind a “no decision,” take a risk of being wrong and make a tough decision, who knows, you may be right.

Real Decisions Require Action

Making decisions can be a challenge. Making real decisions is even more challenging. A real decision is one that brings about action. Real action.

Real action causes something to change. It may not change much for you but whatever change is caused by your actions sends a ripple effect to those around you. Hopefully you understand that. It means that your decisions and the actions that result from them don’t only affect you, they affect the people around you as well. Your actions can have a big impact on those closest to you.

If you understand that then you should know the reverse is also true. You will be affected by the decisions and actions of the people around you. The closer those people are to you the bigger the impact.

That’s why it’s so important that your decisions lead to action. It’s not really a decision if nothing different happens because of it. Without action nothing different will happen. For those of you who believe it’s sometimes best to not make a decision you should know that a decision to not decide IS a decision. It’s a decision to allow the decisions and actions of others to control and shape your life.

You can make a decision to “stand pat” or “sit tight” or whatever you want to call it but unless virtually ever other person in the world also does nothing then something is going to change for you.

The change may be small and it may take some time for you to realize the change happened but it will happen. The only question is do you want change to happen to you or because of you? Do you want to control the change in your life or are you willing to allow the change to control you?

You can decide whatever you want but if the decision isn’t followed up by some sort of action then you might as well not have decided at all.

You may be only one decision away from an entirely different life. You may be only one decision away from being able to maintain the life you have. Whichever is the case both require that your decisions include an action step.

The decisions that affect your life are being made ever day. You must decide if you want input into the effects of those decisions or you’re willing to let someone else choose your path.

Happiness requires some control over your life. That control can only come from deciding what you want and then taking action to make it happen. As we head into 2020 I don’t think I’m going to wish anyone a Happy New Year. I think I’ll wish people an Active New Year!

The Courage to Lead

You can find lots of articles on leadership that talk about the characteristics required to lead. I’ve written several myself. The two I most often write about are integrity and judgment. Asking which one is more important is a lot like asking which came first the chicken or the egg.

I personally think much of the poor judgment we see and hear about stems from a lack of integrity. People try to hide their lack of integrity and make very poor judgments in the attempt. Rather than be honest about a potential skill gap they try hiding it and once again, that attempt to deceive causes a ton of poor judgment.

Whatever leadership characteristic you think is most important I believe there is one characteristic that all effective leaders possess. That characteristic is courage.

Leading is hard. It’s hard because leadership is about people. You can manage stuff but people must be led. People, all people, are emotional. They have hopes, dreams, challenges, and worries.

If you’re leading them, truly leading, you’re dealing with your emotions, your dreams, your challenges, and your worries, PLUS theirs. That is not easy.

Sometimes conflicts will arise. Authentic Leaders have the courage to confront those conflicts head on. Authentic Servant Leaders have the courage to confront those conflicts head on with a healthy dose of compassion added in.

One of the most serious failings I see from people in leadership positions is lacking the courage to deal with conflicts or even potential conflicts. They will go to great lengths to ignore the situation. They will tell themselves that time will “fix” the problem. They will tell themselves and sometimes other people that “they aren’t baby sitters” and people just have to work these things out on their own. That’s NOT leading.

Making decisions is another area that often requires courageous leadership. When a person in a leadership decision lacks courage they often simply don’t make the decisions required of a leader. What they fail to realize is that not making a decision IS a decision and it’s very often a wrong decision.

Sometimes people in leadership positions lack the courage to say no. When asked for something they know isn’t possible they answer with a “we’ll see” or a “let me think about it.” They know that “no” will be an unpopular answer and they lack the courage to make unpopular decisions. That’s NOT leading either.

Some days leading requires a huge amount of courage. Some days not so much. But courage is a constant in all Authentic Leaders. Possessing the courage to lead is a leadership characteristic not considered often enough. But I’d put it in my top three most important characteristics for a leader.

What about you…do you believe a leader should possess courage?