A CEO’s guide to smart decision-making

You spend enough time doing it, but have you ever thought about how you do it?

by Natasha Abramson
Last Updated: 21 Feb 2020

The aspect of leadership that gets the most attention in modern times is the inspirational, motivational side. 

But leadership is also about taking responsibility and making decisions.

In fact, leaders are often confronted with a bewildering number of decisions, some big, some small, on a daily basis. Examining how you make your decisions can therefore be a very fruitful exercise. Here are some quick pointers.

Be prepared:

It’s easier to make good decisions when you have a clear view of what your options are. George Wright, professor of management science at the University of Strathclyde, advocates scenario planning, a technique that prepares businesses for the possible futures they face. “The more you think about the future the more prepared you are,” says Wright.

Control your emotions:

Intuitive decision-making can be very useful, especially for quick decisions. But it’s also the most likely to get you in trouble, especially if you’re angry, excited or afraid. “If you feel annoyed, pause and reflect. Is this skewing your perception? Are you acting impulsively? Could you be more objective?” asks Jo Maddocks, chief psychologist at PSI Talent Management. Rather than ignoring your feelings or being a slave to them, work on self-awareness and self-management so you can use your emotions intelligently.

Check your biases:

There are numerous biases that can get in the way of rational decision-making, says Alison Maitland, director of research and product at Lane4. She singles out the exposure effect (“where you have a preference for something because you’re familiar to it”), the anchoring bias (“where you become emotionally attached to something”) and the self-serving bias (when you unconsciously judge something to be positive only because it serves you, for example “looking for patterns that don’t really exist”).

Borrow someone else’s frontal cortex:

If you think none of these biases affect you, just remember that no one else does either. One technique for getting round this problem is take yourself out of the equation. Before making a decision, “ask yourself, what evidence have I got?,” says Maitland. Put yourself in another’s shoes - how would they make the decision? Then make a decision and evaluate the outcome. 

Know when to delegate:

You don’t need to make every decision - and making too many probably just squeezes your bandwidth in any case. “Trust people to come up with decisions” better than you do, says Ita Murphy, SYZYGY, CEO. Use your team to create options when facing a decision. “Leading isn’t just about being the most authoritative person in the room… it’s about remaining curious so you can get the best out of your team.” 

Image credit: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

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