We can never make the right decision all the time.  In fact, in some cases making the wrong decision is better than being paralysed with the options and not making any decision.  If you realise it was wrong you can abandon and proceed on a different route.

The ability to make decisions and take calculated risks is a trait that is in one’s DNA. Jack Welch, who was the CEO of General Electric, makes it clear in his book “Winning”, that leaders need to be able to make the unpopular decisions and the hard calls where not all the information is at hand, therefore relying on their gut instinct. They should realise they have been appointed to the position because of their experience and their history of making more right decisions than wrong ones.

Advice from The Past

When looking at a decision it is useful to learn from the great thinkers and decision makers of the past. Jack Welch suggests that the decision maker needs to have the “curiosity that borders on scepticism” making sure all the stones have been over turned.

Leaders need to be constantly aware of the risks and be discussing the likely consequences with their management team. Lord Nelson, the great British naval leader of the Battle of Trafalgar, is an excellent example of a leader who would discuss possible outcomes with his naval comrades.  He would discuss tactics endlessly over evening meals with his team.  His aim was that, during the heat of the battle, all the captains would know what would be the best course of action for the fleet. They would act as one, a “band of brothers”. In fact, during his last famous battle he only issued one order “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

Peter Drucker, the father of management, observed that the weak leaders make plenty of easy decisions while strong leaders make fewer decisions – the big ones.

Jim Collins, of good to great fame, specifies that when making a decision you need to know will the decision, if it goes against you, affect you above or below the waterline. The ‘below the waterline’ risk will obviously sink the organisation unless quick action is taken to mitigate the carnage.

One of the messages from Peter Drucker was that outstanding performance is inconsistent with fear of failure. Welch made numerous brave calls when streamlining the GE juggernaut.  He got rid of businesses that were held dear to the name GE.  Welch, however, could see they were cash cows where the milk was drying up fast.

Frame Your Decisions

For all major decisions and all those decisions, you are having difficulties with it, is a good idea to FRAME them.

F financial: ensure that you can afford any potential downside.

R research: look back on your own experiences or people you know who have made the same decision in the past, learn from their experiences (history has a habit of repeating itself!).

A avoid looking back after the decision: just move on and modify your course as and when needed, just as an ocean liner modifies its course during its journey. It is important to avoid being a ”should-have” person.

M mentor: always discuss major decision with your mentor. Only the foolish venture forward without having a mentor supporting them from behind the scenes.

E evaluate: study the pros and cons of the decision using the standard two-column list

Automate as Many Decisions as Possible

I have a good friend in Germany who pointed out that decision making is fatiguing so it makes sense to automate as many as possible.  Christoph never has to think shall I run this morning or not as he made the decision, years ago, that he runs every morning, six days a week.  There are many work decisions that can be made once and then, by keeping to them, you are decluttering the mind.

Sleep and Decision Making

Arianna Huffington and her team are heading a sleep revolution. They have discovered compelling evidence that illustrates when deprived of sleep, we’re significantly more likely to make bad decisions and exercise poor judgment — which could easily end up costing more time and energy to correct.  Famous disasters such as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill were a result of sleep deprivation. A 2015 Washington State University study showed when the study participants were deprived of sleep, their brains were simply unable to process feedback from their actions and changing circumstances.