7 Powerful Disciplines for Better Decision Making

Dan Beverly

Alongside “ambition for the organisation” and “exemplary people skills”, I’d rate “powerful decision-making habits” as one of the three must-haves of any leader.

Anything less than a powerful decision (which we’ll define simply as a “yes” or a “no”) leaves everyone in limbo. And from there, direction, momentum and energy are lost.

So, I never want a “maybe” or a “let’s wait and see”. I want a powerful decision. And that includes the decision that we need more time or information or some other dependency. In which case, the powerful decision becomes a “no for now” on the primary decision; and a clear “yes” on seeking more information and input.

All sorts of things get in the way of (or to reframe: “are part of”!) our decision making processes. And under pressure, we can lose sight of those. So, our decision-making system needs to include useful habits that ensure we avoid the pitfalls.

Here are 7 powerful disciplines to install alongside your upcoming major decision points.

#1 Support decisions with diverse data

I want to support my decisions with data. I know that bit. But I also want to guard against choosing only the data that supports my already-drawn conclusions. And/or choosing data that’s overly-similar to what I already know or have collected.

My first habit, then, is to look for diverse data and from multiple sources: informing my decision from many perspectives and on many aspects of the decision. Ask: what other data could I look at? What’s the awkward or difficult question we’re avoiding?

#2 Evaluate risks and benefits with equal rigour

In the process of deciding, I might start to draw early conclusions. And from there, I put too much focus into only one side of the risks / benefits equation, as will support my early conclusions. I want to resist that temptation.

My next habit is to notice which side I’m coming down on (for/against the proposal). And then imagine I’m sitting on the other side of the table, pushing an alternative picture. Get into the risks and benefits of the proposal – and its alternatives – from that perspective.

#3 Be aware of faulty case-and-effect reasoning

Just because one circumstance follows another doesn’t mean it was the cause. And so, my next habit is to be very sensitive to internal language along the lines of “… and that means …”. Question it: Is that true? How do we know for sure? What else could be the cause/effect? Listen for the stories we tell to support a course of action.

#4 Stop trusting and start testing decisions

A key influencing factor is Authority. Anyone who speaks with great conviction and apparent authority on a subject is often believed. And that can apply if we have others involved in our decision (see the next two ideas, below) or, indeed, just ourselves – where our own internal dialogue is full of authority.

But I don’t want to be led to a decision with opinion and conjecture alone. So rather that trust we have the right decision, I want to test it, wherever I can. My new habit is to look for the opportunity to experiment, even in the smallest way, with the decision we’re closing in on. Ask yourself and the team: In what safe, timely and insightful way could we experiment with this?

#5 Go looking for constructive criticism

Something energetic and chemical happens when we have two or more minds working on a problem. So, my habit is to invite others into my decision-making process and feed off their thinking. But as with all the data I collect and feed into this decision, I don’t want sycophantic agreement that supports whatever I’m saying.

So, I want to upgrade my habit to including others in my decision-making process – and then invite them to counter my proposals. Invite and make it safe for them to offer challenge and stretch.

#6 Connect with opponents and adversaries

Continuing on from the point above: don’t just involve your own team and other members of your loyal following. Go looking for the opponents and adversaries. Their feedback will be testing – and will really prove your decision and elevate your standards.

And why do we look for “opponents” and “adversaries”? Are they not the same thing? No. One group are friendly and on your side – but opposed to the idea. The others are just not on your side, regardless. Both can harbour very useful insights and challenge.

#7 Make use of accountability

Finally, I want to install the habit of introducing outside accountability to my decision-making process. Nothing compels me to be decisive, hit deadlines and meet commitments like public accountability. So, my final discipline is always to incorporate some form of publicly-known, outside-in commitment towards making the decision.

BONUS: Upgrade the decision by 10%

A final thought. When I land on my decision, I want the habit of upgrading what we have. I want to challenge myself by asking how I could improve, upgrade and/or elevate this decision by 10% to make it even more powerful. What does a 10% upgraded decision look like? I don’t know – but you will (!), once you have your decision and ask yourself for 10% more.


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