Decisions, Decisions

Better leaders make better decisions. Usually.

By Mark Riffey

Other than leading their team, the most important and often, most valuable work a leader can do is making decisions.

Our process for making these decisions varies. As such, so does the quality of those decisions. Sometimes this variance is OK. At other times, the variance can be catastrophic. Most times, the variance tends to be sync with the size, scope, and importance of the decision.

Trouble with variance

Where do we get in trouble? When the variance is out of sync with the size, scope, and importance of the decision.
A friend of mine advises using only enough precision to make the right decision. In other words, you don’t need to calculate data to four decimal places to make a $10 decision.

This assumes that you have the right data to review. In most cases, we have the right data. Sometimes, there is value provided by making a big decision as late as possible. It’s common when conditions driving the decision are variable and continue to change.

Financial decisions are often part of this group. You might wait a week because you think interest rates will fall a little. This decision might impact a large 30 year mortgage. Tiny, daily interest rate changes and related fees do this all the time.

If you do the math, you may find that the extra handwringing isn’t worth it given the possible variance.

Certainty is tough to get. Clarity is another story altogether. Get clarity on the context of your wait and the impact of the most likely variance. The only certainty may come in making the decision and moving on. Don’t let the variance own you.

Your gut was right three months ago

Sometimes we have the data needed to make the right decision – and we have it for months.

Other times, you’ve been thinking about a particular decision for months. Your thinking hasn’t changed. Yet you haven’t moved on the decision. No action. More thought. And even more thought. Once you’re finally forced, you make the decision. Ever done that?

I have – and recently.

Guess what the decision was? The same choice I first selected many months earlier. The decision wasn’t huge, but it had some importance and meaning to me. Even so, I put it off because I could. No one was pressing me for it, so I puttered around with it.

Since the decision was not important to anyone but me, it was easy to let it slide. The price was the cognitive load of rethinking that decision several times.

Did I have other, better things to invest in with my thinking time? Of course. I suspect you do too. If others aren’t waiting on a decision you know you need to make and the decision is not all that important – make it.

Sometimes, your gut needs help

I recently had a pretty big decision to make – a different one than the minor one noted above.

My choice could drive an eight figure difference in the outcome. The interesting thing was that for weeks, I was ambivalent about the choices I had. The options I had to choose between didn’t change my post-decision involvement much.

That’s what made the decision take longer. Had each option driven a much different end game, the decision might have taken longer.

It wasn’t the scope of the possible outcomes. It was that the difference in outcomes wasn’t all that important to me. These differences weren’t important because the difference in process associated with each option was minor.

Several people pushed me about why I was ambivalent about the differences. This didn’t happen because I needed to make a fast decision or because the decision affected them. They were part of the conversation only because I invited their input. In fact, I encouraged them to bust my chops and pick at my responses.

In the end, my decision was the same as my first gut thought about it . The reasons that helped me make the decision final? A series of hard (and unexpected) questions drilled into me at my request. The questions peeled away some clouds that were keeping me from making a choice.

The decision was mine. What made the difference was inviting a trusted handful of people to tear me down. It was all about them questioning me about the mindset and logic associated with each option.

Do you have someone to push you about your big decisions?

Mark Riffey is an investor and advisor to small business owners. Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site, contact him on LinkedIn or Twitter, or email him at

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