Not all leaders are effective decision-makers. So often, I watch good intentions get stuck. Leaders can be smart, they can be insightful, they can be bold, and they can even be strategic in their thinking, and still not be decisive when it’s needed.
Effective leaders make these two types of decisions consistently to achieve success for their teams and the broader organization:
- Split-Second Decisions: These decisions need to be made real-time.
- Strategic Decisions: These decisions are more comprehensive and require leaders to initiate action based on long-term goals and a longer-term vision.
Both of these require leaders to discern (usually quickly) and respond with the right approach, not certain how it will work out.
We see these decisions play out on the field and in organizations all the time. They are what define a quarterback’s performance. They are why Aaron Rodgers earns accolades and Kirk Cousins struggles. (That’s coming from a Vikings fan.)
You can argue that these players have similar skills and experience. Yet, one consistently nails a play and one does not. And the team (and fans) suffer. Why is that?
Some of the best people in any field can make split-second decisions. In some cases, like in the ER, these decisions are life-changing or life-altering. In other areas, they can be game-changing or game-winning.
People actually can train their minds to do it. But it will be harder for people who are naturally processors. When making these types of decisions, forward movement is key:
- Quickly outline options and outcomes.
- Take yourself out of the equation. (This is the hard part.)
- Execute on an option.
It sounds simple, but doing this with speed is where the skill comes in. You have to go with your gut and trust it. Not all these decisions will work out, but you have to make them anyway. That’s part of being a great leader.
With strategic decisions, leaders need to consider multiple perspectives and the broader impact. These decisions require more planning and gaining buy-in from others.
While split-second decisions usually are made alone, the best strategic decisions are made collectively. When making strategic decisions, leaders need to:
- Identify the impact and who needs to be involved.
- Bring the key leaders together. (Ideally, keep it to 7; for sure not more than 10.)
- Share the proposal and really seek input.
Pre-work and presentation matter here. Do them both well. When plans are presented clearly and concisely, the decisions get made faster — and usually with better results.
How Do I Decide?
Good decision-making is hard to teach. It’s less about a process than people think. At all levels, it requires:
- Confidence. (This is the most important.)
- Ability to take risks and accept the consequences.
- Taking yourself out of it.
When leaders build skills in these three areas, they naturally become better at making both split-second and strategic decisions. Practice. The more decisions we make as leaders, the better we can get at decision-making. Be intentional, reflect and be nimble.