The Oxford dictionary defines leadership as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization.” Business owners will need to have many skills to be effective — but perhaps none more important than being an effective decision maker. Your customers, employees, suppliers and key stakeholders rely on you to be able to make swift and informed decisions to guide operations, shape product decisions, ensure you have the right staff in place and manage growth.
Many business leaders have found themselves at that proverbial place of “on the fence,” agonizing over the pros and cons of a choice until they are so fraught with indecision that they become paralyzed and the decision gets put off, often with significant cost to an organization’s operations and ability to grow. This happens because decisions can have uncomfortable outcomes, especially when emotions are at stake or are knowingly going to disappoint someone.
Being decisive is not a skill that one is necessarily born with. Our natural inclination is to avoid the discomfort and our brains inherently develop patterns that avoid negative situations. Yet, to be an effective leader you must work to ensure that effective decision making becomes the habit. Here is one framework that you can use to help guide you “over the fence” and into decision mode:
• Acknowledge and accept a decision needs to be made.
• Gather the necessary information to make an informed decision.
• Analyze the choices available.
• Consider the impacts of your decision.
• If needed, give yourself a deadline for action.
An additional component to effective decision making is that leaders must be able to reframe their thinking when they find themselves making overly emotional decisions rather than from an objective point of view. I recently met with a business owner to discuss an employee issue he was having. He had promoted one of his employees to manager, overseeing a large portion of the business and directly supervising several other employees. It had been brought to his attention several times that this individual was demonstrating a negative attitude within the workplace, thereby impacting morale, and undermining some of the business owner’s decisions.
The owner was agonizing over what to do with this employee as they had been with the company from the beginning. When I asked how long he had been worrying about this, he admitted it had been eating at him for months, consuming significant mental energy that really should have been better used to manage the expansion of his business and support other staff.
After walking him through the steps of the decision making framework, I realized he was having a very hard time separating himself from the emotional component of the decision (disappointing an employee, impacting someone’s livelihood) and seeing the big picture for the health of his business. Keeping in mind that his business was dependent on a positive customer experience and he had invested a lot in training the manager, I suggested he look at it through the lens of Disney.
Walt Disney once said, “You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world … but it requires people to make the dream a reality.” Disney understands the power of a company vision and that investing in employee training is essential to ensuring that visitors to the magic kingdom have a consistently exceptional experience. The scenario I laid out for the business owner to analyze was that of a supervisor at Disney who had five employees that had all been through the rigorous Disney training. One of the five employees was consistently rude to the other employees and sometimes even customers. After several attempts at coaching and HR intervention there did not seem to be any change. I posed to the business owner this question: “Would that manager be better off letting that employee go and bringing on someone who was enthusiastic and able to do the job or should they keep investing time and resources in the bad apple employee — and risk having another poor customer experience and draining morale, not to mention sucking resources from the manager?”
Being a decisive leader does not mean you should be reckless or rash in your decision making or require that you be heartless or cold. Rather, being a decisive leader means holding yourself accountable to the responsibility you have for achieving your company’s vision and supporting those you lead by making informed, thoughtful and timely decisions. So, the next time you find yourself on the fence for any length of time, remember indecision is a decision, and it can be a costly one. Growing into a decisive leader can be developed over time, and while using the decision making framework may not be inherent, the more you practice it, the stronger you and your organization will become.
Jessica Newhall is the associate director and Small Business Management program manager for the Clatsop Community College Small Business Development Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.