Decisions: Leaders have to make a lot of them. And leaders should make a lot of them. But how do we assess if the overall decision-making process is a good one?
I believe we can learn from IQ tests: Some parts of common IQ tests use time limits. For instance, in some tests you have to identify a number of shapes on a page. With enough time, almost everybody will find all shapes. However, what is used for measuring this element of intelligence is how fast you can find these shapes.
The same is true for decisions in my view. Making decisions in tough environments takes more than just making a good and high quality decision. It’s also about making these good decisions in a fast manner and coping with the stress and uncertainty. I call this combination Decision Intelligence and I believe that leaders should work on their Decision Intelligence Quotient (D.I.Q.):
Speed is often forgotten. However, with a week or a month or two to analyze a situation; or a football game coaching strategy; or whether to put a city on lockdown; or a business case study, it’s quite straightforward to come up with a decision, especially with the benefit of hindsight. It’s also easy to make fun then, to criticize from the armchair (“Who decided that?!? Ridiculous!”).
But what if you only have 10 minutes?
Focusing on decision quality alone lacks this critical component: The time and pressure and uncertainty of the situation.
The moment when everybody looks at you, waiting for the decision. And everybody has a different opinion and is waiting for you to make a mistake.
The moment when money, reputation, or even lives are at stake. When you do not have all information and no way of getting the information in time, but you still have to make a call because it’s important that a decision is made without covering all corners.
Here are six strategies to improve the DIQ:
A) Improve the quality of decision-making
- Use processes that avoid anchoring: A good decision has a broad view and takes a lot of elements into account, weighing the pros and cons and making sure all input is heard. The problem with discussion as a decision method is that: 1) There is an anchor with the first thing that is said; 2) the more silent folks don’t have a fair share of voice. To avoid this, use facilitation methods such as the “Note & Vote method” employed also at e.g. at Google Ventures. Same speed. Better outcome.
- Avoid Narrow Framing: One of the easiest things to do to improve any decision is -according to Chip & Dan Heath in their bestseller Decisive– to broaden the frame. A decision is very, very rarely only “Yes” or “No”. There are always multiple options. Therefore always have at least three options for any given decision.
- Map your decisions out: Follow Peter Drucker’s advice and review your decisions in the future on a regular basis. This can be implemented quite easily: Write down all assumptions. All key thoughts. All emotions, concerns, fears. 6 months later, review them. Do this with all of your major decisions with for instance a simple calendar entry in the future and you will automatically strengthen your decision making muscle.
B) Improve the speed of decision-making and cope with the stress
- Have decision trees and checklists frameworks ready. What do pilots do in stressful situations: Brainstorming? Shouting at each other? No, they have something that is called crew resource management. (watch this brief documentary for an example). In case of an emergency there is a sequence activated that does not have to be invented on the spot. Checklists and key questions are part of that. For you, build a decision framework for e.g. what you would do if a major competitor launches a new product BEFORE the situation. If the moment comes, refer to it so that you have a guideline for decision and don’t need to run around like a headless chicken.
- Practice decision making every day. Like everything, decision-making is a skill that can be trained. One practical advice you can easily implement while driving a car: Listen to the news and ask yourself every time when there is a major decision being discussed: What is your viewpoint? How would you go ahead, what would you decide, and why? (Thanks, Olivier for this technique).
- Have a single focus: A confused mind cannot decide. You only a certain amount of willpower and decision power available. Therefore you will need to learn to reduce other distractions. Regular meditation can help, as well as the highly effective 4-4-4-4 method of focused breathing: 4 counts breath in; 4 counts hold; 4 counts breathe out; 4 counts hold). Repeat this 1-2 times and you will immediately feel the calming effect.
Becoming a good and fast decision maker is one of the best things that you can do as a leader. What has helped you improve your decision intelligence?
Lars Sudmann is an expert on high-performance leadership in global corporations. You can contact Lars to work with you as change consultant or keynote speaker & workshop facilitator for your next event. This article also appeared on his blog: www.lars-sudmann.com, where you can also watch his TEDx talks. You can also follow Lars here and on Twitter.
Images credit: shutterstock.com and istockphoto.com.