At Junto, we believe that an executive’s ability to make sound decisions for their company is the most important measure of their leadership capacity. Similar to emotional intelligence, strong decision-making cannot be taught, but it can be learned. Heightened emotional intelligence helps improve a leader’s focus and ability to reason, which leads to sounder decisions.
Sometimes the biggest improvement in decision-making can come from simply removing certain barriers and roadblocks that cloud the mind and create complexity. At Junto, we do our best to engage in the following practices – both as a company and in our sessions – in order for us and others to make better decisions.
ASK FOR EXPERIENCES, NOT ADVICE
When making an important decision, it’s natural to lean on those around us for input. Getting advice and feedback from others is easy. Anyone from your friend to your accountant to your co-founder is able to share their opinion. Rather than turning to just anyone (trusted or not), we believe in targeting those that have gone through the experience at hand before: gathering information, not opinions.
Once veterans of the circumstance have been found, we believe in asking about their experiences handling the issue, how they made their decision, and what the outcome was. In most conversations, advice-giving will creep in (look out for the words “should” or “must” or “need”). When it does, it’s easy for it to have a strong influence on the listener, especially if the advice-giver is someone the listener admires.
Advice-giving is dangerous because it creates added emotional complexity and puts an onus on the person deciding what to do. The internal conversation turns into something like, “I really trust this person. They said I shouldn’t go forward with this. If I end up doing it they might think I am foolish.” All of a sudden emotions regarding what the trusted person thinks become a factor in the decision-making process, whether conscious or not.
Focusing on the information from shared experiences, and intentionally mentioning this with those we’re seeking help from, can take the additional emotional burden out of the equation. Hearing details on past experiences empowers the seeker with more information to make their own decision – adding clarity and avoiding the complexity that advice brings.
CREATE BUY-IN INSTEAD OF BARRIERS
Another potential roadblock to making and executing a decision can be fellow executives and team members involved or influenced by the situation. The opinions of these groups can have serious sway – and sometimes eye-opening ones – regarding how the decision-maker sees the options.
In order to approach the decision as wisely as possible, channeling such people as a strength, rather than a barrier, is pivotal. Yes, some of this really does come down to who the people are, which is a separate discussion. But the decision-maker can take a course of action that promotes alignment and buy-in, rather than exclusion and resistance. It can also be a potential answer to the constant question of how to motivate employees.
First, the leader can let key players know their help is needed in the situation. This creates a feeling of importance and a sense of involvement, rather than exclusion. Next, share information with them. Bring colleagues to meetings with advisors. And before mentioning any ideas or conclusions, ask for theirs. This helps foster alignment and support, along with the added benefit of discovering if they thought of any ingenious points previously unseen.
PRACTICE SELF-AWARENESS & SELF-MANAGEMENT
Decision-making is an emotional process. With important choices, there is plenty on the line involving people and things we care about. In these situations emotions don’t need to be ignored, but rather acknowledged. Self-awareness is the practice of being cognizant of what we are experiencing and feeling. Whether it is feeling afraid, frustrated, stuck, victimized, or angry…no emotion is wrong or bad. Our ability to make a clear decision while experiencing a strong emotion, however, is much lower.
Rather than demonizing the emotions that come with the situation, a leader instead can choose to explore them and allow themselves to fully feel the emotion. Letting feelings “have their day” and even choosing an outlet or finding a confidant to express them to is important in getting to a place of more clarity. The actions and behaviors we adopt after acknowledging our present emotional state is self-management. We can choose to be in a more optimal state when making a decision, and we can choose actions that help us get there.
Good sleep, meditation, working out, and spending time with loved ones are just a few options for creating more emotional balance. This is even more critical for leaders of fast-growing companies, where the pace of change is higher and there is a greater likelihood of volatility in operations and outcomes.
TIME IS A FACTOR, NOT AN EXCUSE
Most big decisions come with a deadline. Time is usually not an abundant factor in making an important choice. Although a leader may need to move swiftly, it is not an excuse to skip the steps and elements mentioned above. Not addressing these points because “I don’t have enough time” can create bigger problems down the road. Making a decision without gathering multiple data points, without getting important team buy-in, or by acting from a place of fear and anxiety, all can have detrimental effects on the outcome, no matter how pure the intentions.
Decision-making is a complex activity – one that tests a leader’s knowledge, emotional intelligence and ability to create alignment within a team – all usually within a set timeframe. Although a perfectly clear scenario may be impossible, leaders can do a great deal to mitigate unnecessary roadblocks and complexity.