Decisions are hard. Leadership decisions can be even harder, because you have a team relying on you and the consequences of your decision reach beyond yourself and your personal experience. It’s no surprise then, that decision making is an important leadership skill, and one that many leaders need to work on.
When faced with a client who is struggling with a difficult decision, I often ask them, “What would you tell a friend or team member to do in this situation?” It’s something many of us have intuitively discovered – it’s easier to give decision advice to someone else than to make a decision ourselves. Thanks to Evan Polman, who recently published his findings on the topic in the Harvard Business Review, we can understand why this is, and how to use it to improve our decision-making skills.
Polman’s findings basically identify two types of decision-making processes:
- Decisions made with a cautious mindset – With a cautious mindset, we tend to deeply analyse a few choices, including minutiae surrounding the decision. In this mode, we are prone to “analysis paralysis”, overthinking and self-doubt.
- Decisions made with an adventurous mindset – With this mindset, we explore a wider array of options and stay focused on the big picture, and we tend towards greater confidence with our recommendations.
In short, when we make decisions for ourselves, we employ a cautious mindset; whereas when we recommend decisions for others, we employ an adventurous mindset. Certainly, there are advantages to this dichotomy– after all, when the decision is ours, we also hold the risk, so it makes sense that we are prone to giving it more in-depth thought. But relying too heavily on a cautious mindset could also rob us of opportunities – we may be reluctant to plan a trip we’d recommend a friend take, or we might hesitate to take on a project that we’d encourage a colleague to tackle.
How can we leverage this knowledge to employ a more adventurous mindset? Polman’s suggestions have two overarching ideas behind them.
Idea 1 – Recognize your weakness and balance it out by teaming up. We know that we’d make a more adventurous recommendation to a friend or colleague. Why not ask a trusted friend or colleague to do the same for us? Asking for advice is not a weakness in leadership; in fact, acknowledging a weakness and compensating for it by effectively teaming is an essential leadership skill (after all, no matter how good you are, you can’t possibly do it all). If a decision presents itself and you find yourself reacting with caution, bounce it off your trusted confidante to get a sense of whether you caution is warranted, or whether there is a different way of assessing the choice.
You can take this a step further by outsourcing some decisions to professionals. Polman notes that stylists, interior designers, travel agents, or personal trainers can take on some of your personal decisions, while consultants and subject matter experts can be of assistance in the professional realm. An added bonus: you’ll counteract the tendency for decision fatigue by removing some decisions from your plate altogether.
Idea 2 – Act as if. Knowing that an adventurous mindset is available to you, use your creativity to act as if you are advising or deciding for a friend or colleague, rather than yourself. Imagine what you might say if your best friend was asking you whether they could handle the promotion you’ve been offered. What possibilities (rather than problems) would you see for them? Put yourself in the role of the observer, and consciously counter-balance your cautious tendencies with adventurous possibilities.
Decision-making is hard. Every decision represents both an opportunity, and a potential for problems or failures. By mindfully managing the mindset we bring to our decisions, we can make wise choices while also opening ourselves up to the potential for growth and success that courageous decisions can bring.