Decisions, Decisions: It’s the Presentation that Counts

A leader is responsible for making the best possible decisions for her/his team/company. Ideally, we have plenty of time to get the facts, weigh the options and then objectively make the best possible decision. That’s not today’s world, we live in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous).  As Greg Satell relates in 4 Things Every Leader Should Know About Making Decisions (But Most Don’t), we make decisions based on limited data and time, and because we’re human, lots of psychological processes related to which facts we analyze, how we weigh the “data”, and how we present it, allow subjectivity to enter. Chip and Dan Heath, in their book, Decisive, make similar points about unconscious biases and tendencies.

After doing the best we can to overcome the biases, collect the data and analyze, what can we do? Satell raises some good points that you should consider:

  • Your team’s willingness to follow your lead depends on how well you confidently you present your decision. He relates a story in which one of his people noted that “Well, you always seemed confident and that made us confident.” Even though he wasn’t always confident that he was making the right decision, he was confident that a decision had to be made at that time.  Over time, you learn to make the best decision under constraining circumstances, and so your confidence relates to the process:  the best possible decision you could make is offered as needed.
  • Learn how to use time to help you make the best decision.  If a decision is needed the next day and someone asks you for it at the end of a day, when you’re not able to necessarily make the best decision and review it, agree to provide the decision – tomorrow when it’s needed. That buys you the time to reflect on the tentative decision and all the factors that might affect it.
  • Buying time often buys you the ability to receive additional facts and perspectives that the “selective attention of your prepared mind” may identify. (Think about buying a “red car” and suddenly you “see” more of them around than ever.)
  • Use the time to reflect on many of the unconscious biases, such as availability bias,  priming, and framing, to see if they are affecting the decision. If time permits, consider using pre-mortems and red teams, to identify opposing perspectives and weigh them. Finally, keepin mind, as Kahneman notes in Noise,  that experts (e.g.,  radiologists and auditors)

In sum, work toward making the best possible decision by checking your premises, and then feel confident that you’ve done the best job. It’s often said that “sales is the transfer of enthusiasm”; when you’re presenting the decision to motivate and engage the team, your confidence in the decision will close the sale.

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