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Make Better Decisions With More Confidence

Knight Campbell
August 7, 2022

Decision making is one of a leader's hardest tasks

As a leader, you can instantly relate to the difficulty of making an important decision with limited time and information. We all feel that pressure- the fear of missing an opportunity, looking foolish, or just getting it plain wrong. Yet leaders bear this burden for better or worse. 

General Eisenhower observed, “Subordinates can advise, urge, help, and pray, but only one [leader] in [his or her] mind and heart can decide, do we or do we not.” (Lead Yourself First, Kethledge & Erwin).

Even in low-pressure situations like selecting a dinner spot for a group of friends, we waver. We sometimes continue wondering if we chose the right restaurant halfway through the dinner!

As authority figures, leaders hold the responsibility for making decisions. At least they must facilitate the decision-making process. Ultimately the results of a decision come back to the leader. So how can leaders shift their mindset to make decisions more confidently? We offer these three ideas as primary game changers for your decision-making- make decisions in a loop rather than linearly, intentionally decide on the appropriate decision-making process, and purposefully articulate the process along with the eventual outcome!

Leaders making decisions

Make decisions with loops

Leaders fear they will lose respect by changing their minds about a decision, for example, note the media excoriating politicians for flip-flops. This causes fear of committing to a decision and often results in taking too much time to wait for ‘all’ of the information to be available. Of course, jerking people around with contrary decisions will not lead to a successful enterprise but changing course as new information becomes available seems reasonable.

Strategist Col. John Boyd gained some fame for the OODA Loop. While the complexities of his theory are out of scope here, read all about it in this great article. In this decision-making framework, a leader observes relevant data, orients that data into meaningful information decides on an action, and acts on the decision faster than competitors (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act). Leaders must continually loop decisions. “The thread that tied Boyd’s research together was a belief that the key to success in the uncertain, modern world was not a specific belief, but the ability to rapidly change beliefs based on a rapidly changing and uncertain environment.” (Taylor Pearson) Leaders tend to dwell on their decisions too long, wasting precious time, energy, and bandwidth for moving forward. Otherwise, leaders can cling to decisions too long despite contrary evidence. Instead, make decisions more quickly with the information available and then revisit your decisions systematically to observe for new pertinent information. If there isn’t any, own the decision and keep acting. If you find new information, reorient and consider making a new decision.

For example, in a NOLS expedition I just guided, students took turns as designated leaders. On their day to lead, they decided which route through the Alaskan wilderness would most safely get their group to the next camp. I observed leaders constantly questioning their own decisions, wondering if they had taken the group in the wrong direction, and fearing the group’s disappointment. When I observed this, I coached them to articulate noticing new information such as fatigue, unexpected weather, poor terrain, unexpected landmarks, and so on. When they observed something new, they stopped to consult the group on the original decision. If no new information came up, I encouraged them to keep moving confidently while observing their surroundings. After a few days, leaders moved quickly, making good decisions and gaining consensus as they went. When conditions changed, they noted the difference and made new decisions as required.

Own the decision making process

Leaders often have a preferred method of making decisions and end up blindly using this method for every decision. An authoritative leader might always be directive, even when consulting the group instead could produce a better path forward with more buy-in. A consultative leader may ask for advice when a timely decision is required to keep everyone safe. The best leaders intentionally decide what decision-making process makes the most sense in each case and then actively facilitate that process. An immediate decision might require a directive approach, while a vision-oriented decision could be worth taking the time to seek consensus. Alexander Caillet and Amy Yeager at Mobius Executive Leadership find that the best teams can seamlessly shift between decision-making methods as they confront new situations. Taking the extra few minutes to decide how to make an upcoming decision can put everyone on the same page, making the process smoother.

Articulate the decision making process

Leaders build confidence and trust in their decision-making by articulating their decisions and their decision-making process. Usually, we use mental shortcuts and gut feelings rather than balancing intuition with logic to make decisions. While at times this approach is appropriate, it can be seriously detrimental to your group. Team members end up feeling left out and devalued when they do not understand how you made your decisions. By committing to articulating your reasoning to followers, you will prevent yourself from falling into the heuristic shortcut trap and allow space for followers to break out of dangerous dynamics like groupthink. Furthermore, by simply pointing out a possible group dynamic such as social loafing or overconfidence, you can get people to engage in the process more fully. Avalanche professionals use this technique often to prevent human factors from leading to deadly choices in the backcountry. You can name human factors, constraints, and observations as well to get a better process with more group buy-in. Once you make the decision, recap how you arrived at the decision and exactly what you or the group decided. By clearly articulating these two points, you hold yourself accountable and provide closure for your team to move forward!

Practice, practice, practice...

Decision-making is hard. Feeling the ultimate responsibility as a leader can cause indecision or constant anxiety over the quality of a past decision. By spending a little extra time to decide how a decision should be made and articulate that process, leaders can generate higher buy-in and more personal confidence.
Invest time in the front end of a decision to make the outcome flow more smoothly. Then concentrate on noticing when new information arises that may impact your decision. Until you observe new information, don’t waste time worrying about the decision, instead focus on action! When you notice new information, be adaptable and make a new decision!

Want to practice making better decisions and get real-time feedback on your leadership skills? That’s exactly what we do on our weekend Crux Adventures! Get outside now and adventure with us!

Questions? We'd love to hear from you! 

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