Are You Listening to the Wrong People? How to Reduce the Chances of Making a Decision You Will Regret
A version of this article was posted in my April column at Troy Media.
Last month my column was inspired by the political maelstrom created by the SNC-Lavalin affair. A month has passed, the storm continues to swirl. I am inspired, once again, to draw on this situation as a leadership learning opportunity. There have been no shortage of ‘what were they thinking?’ moments, causing us to wonder about the quality of the decisions being made.
We all face difficult situations. The question is, how do we do an appropriate level of due diligence before making a high-impact decision? The more complex and nuanced the issue, the less likely there are clear-cut right and wrong answers. We can never guarantee we will always make the ‘right’ decision. We can, however, increase the likelihood of making good decisions through robust due diligence, and then anticipating and preparing for the consequences of our decisions.
There are some typical decision-making traps we can all fall into, and ways to avoid them.
Failing to recognize, early on, the importance, scope, or complexity of an issue. We are all moving quickly and juggling a lot of balls. Sometimes it feels like we are on auto-pilot, moving from one crisis to the next. When we don’t slow down and intentionally engage our brains, we run the risk of overlooking something really important. This is exacerbated when we have a job where everything we are dealing with is big and complex, or when we are confronting something for the first time and don’t have lessons of experience to draw from. Strategies for avoiding this trap include:
Limiting decision-making inputs. While we all agree there is “strength in diversity”, most of us are not very good at actioning it. We tend to fall back on a small group of advisors and confidantes, even when we can anticipate the advice we are likely to get. When the stakes are high, it can be emotionally reassuring to hear familiar perspectives from those we trust. However, we can fool ourselves into believing that hearing different perspectives is the same as hearing diverse perspectives. To maximize diversity of inputs and cast new light on an issue:
Forgetting to plan for the consequences. Too often we focus on making the best possible decision under the circumstances, and then move on. The reality is, every critical decision has consequences we will have to deal with. When we don’t stop to think about what dominos could fall, we are unprepared to respond to them. There are times when how we respond to events is even more significant than the decision itself. In his book Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most, author Steven Johnson talks about using a pre-mortem before making a critical decision. This is a strategy for imagining and anticipating the full range of potential consequences that could occur so we can plan for them, or even use those insights to reconsider our decision.
Doing a poor job of delegating decision-making. As leaders, we have to delegate responsibility for decision-making to others. Leaders can struggle with which decisions they should be making, and which they should be farming out. Some leaders exercise too much control and want to make every decision, even when they lack important insight or expertise (the micromanagers). Others exercise too little oversight, leaving others to flap in the wind and make critical calls on their behalf (the absentee landlords). Both situations can lead to problems in high-stakes situations. As a leader, it is important you get clear on where you need to be operating.
We are all confronted with difficult and complicated decisions, the consequences of which can have long-lasting impacts. How we approach them can make all the difference.