How to Make a Decision-Maker

I remember when George W. Bush was President he made a comment (I don’t recall the context) that he was the “decider.” He was laughed at and made fun of because of that statement. I really never understood why… I still don’t.

The ability to decide is a fundamental requirement of effective leadership. If you don’t have the ability to make a decision then you don’t have the ability to lead. In the absence of decisions leadership flounders and dies. Now, for those of you who want to put the qualifier “good” before the word decision you go right ahead. 

The reality is, you should be just as concerned with a lack of ability to make any decisions as you are about poor or bad decisions. Just as many organizations and businesses have failed because of no decisions as have failed because of poor decisions. It just might take a little longer. 

If you’re a leader who is interested in the development of the leaders who will follow you then helping them discover their ability to make decisions should be a major focus area for YOU. 

Help them to understand the difference between a “satisficing” decision and a maximized decision. Satisficing is an approach to decision-making that prioritizes an adequate solution over the optimal solution that comes from a maximized decision. While a maximized decision is always preferable sometimes time constraints and a lack of access to complete information will require a leader to go with an adequate solution. 

A maximized decision requires that you know and understand every option. They require considerably more time and energy and still, a maximizer decision-maker often has doubts about their decision because they find it hard to ever be truly certain.

Share with your future leaders where you find your information when making a decision. As you consider your sources you’ll likely find that a great many of your decisions are in fact satisficing decisions. 

You get as much information as you can and you combine it with your experience and instincts and you decide. That is what a decider does, they decide! Your future leaders have experience and instincts too and a lot of that came from you so how bad a decision can they make?

It’s never good to hold your people to a standard that you don’t hold yourself to. If you’re largely a satisficing decision-maker then don’t expect your people to always be maximizer decision-makers. They won’t be perfect decision makers, they will just be like you.

If you’re building tomorrow’s leaders then you must let them decide today. Start small, they don’t need to begin with million dollar decisions but they do need to begin. In order for your future leaders to begin you must stop. Stop deciding for them. 

Once you allow them to decide then you must stop second guessing their decisions. You can coach, you can gently suggest but you can’t overrule. Even if you believe they are wrong. Perhaps one of the best things to do when allowing others to make decisions that you have made in the past is to consider the very first principle from Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” The principle says, “Don’t condemn, criticize or complain.” 

One of the very best ways to learn to make decisions is simply to make them and then study the outcome. If the outcome was less than desirable then adjust the decision and study the results again. Some outcomes will be good, some will be bad, some may be worse than bad. If the person making the decisions is truly a leader they may learn more from a poor decision than they learn from a good one.

YES, I understand a poor decision can bring with it financial consequences. I’d simply encourage you to consider any negative financial consequences to be an investment in your future leaders…they are after all the future that you’re creating. 


When It’s Time to Decide

Every decision that needs to be made will be made. No exceptions!

If you’re responsible to make a decision and you fail to make it somebody or something will make it for you. If you think “waiting” to make a decision is a good idea you must realize that “waiting” is the same as making a decision to not make a decision. That is almost always the wrong decision to make. 

You can fix a poor decision once it’s made because you maintain some control over the decision. Failure to decide causes you to lose much of the control you may have had over a poor decision.

The only way I know of to learn to make decisions is to make them. You’ll certainly make some bad ones along the way but even those will teach you how to make better ones next time.

You must learn to make decisions because if you’re a person in a leadership position and you do not have the ability to make decisions then you will not lead, you will be led. You will be led by the unkindest leader of all, time and circumstance.

Time and circumstance will make the decision for you. That’s why you must understand that not making a decision is a decision. Deadlines will go whooshing past while you stand there pondering your next decision. The decision will, for all practical purposes have been made. Time will have made it for you. 

Once that happens your circumstances will be decided for you instead of by you. You will either drive the decision-making process or you will be driven by it. 

The time to decide is the moment, the very moment, when you have all the facts and information necessary to make an informed decision. At that point any delay is simply procrastination and procrastination is like poison to effective decision-making.

Occasionally time will force you to make a decision without all the facts you would like to have. In those cases you’ll need to rely on your past experience, the advice of other knowledgeable people, history and often, your instincts. Just remember, use all the information and facts you DO have even if you don’t have all the information you wish you had. 

Successful people decide, to lead effectively you must make the decision to decide in every instance where decision is required. It might not be easy but it is leadership!