Being Decisive is Overrated

decision making
This is a guest post by Karen Martin, president of the global consulting firm TKMG, Inc. Her latest book, Clarity First, outlines specific actions to dramatically improve organizational and individual performance.

The Problem with Quick Decision Making

Most leaders agree, it’s important to have clear ideas about the issues that matter to them and their organizations. Yet, leaders are praised far more often for making quick decisions than for thinking clearly.

In such a fast-paced, noisy world, leaders understandably feel the pressure to think and act fast—but this can be to their detriment. Today, more so than ever, it’s critical to give oneself the time needed to assess a situation fully, gather on-point information, and develop a thoughtful position.

Not convinced? Think of it this way: clear thought is a precursor to making good decisions, acting decisively, solving problems, and seizing opportunities in a way that consistently fulfills the organization’s goals.

But, as most leaders will attest, this is much easier said than done. You have to be patient and possess disciplined thinking habits.

Here are three ways to start:

Be mindful.

Mindfulness means paying attention purposefully, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. It’s a state of being that allows its practitioners to lead with greater clarity by developing a calmer and more focused mind. It introduces a pause between receipt of information and your reaction to it, and it slows thinking processes enough that they become observable.

Mindfulness and the practice of mindfulness meditation is a trending topic in leadership and management literature for good reason: there’s a growing body of scientific evidence showing that mindfulness meditation changes the brain in a powerful, performance-enhancing way. It develops areas of your brain responsible for self-regulation, allowing you to more effectively place your attention where you want it, regulate your mood, and manage your response to information.

Here’s another bonus of mindfulness: it helps create more healthful stress responses and more effective ways for the brain to process large volumes of inputs.



Ask questions.

Asking questions is a critical tool for achieving clarity. Learning to lead with questions versus proclamations is initially uncomfortable for many because asking questions comes with an implicit acknowledgment that you don’t know the answers. Many people—especially leaders—don’t like admitting when they don’t know something.

But take comfort from the fact that as a leader, it’s OK to NOT know. In many cases, it’s preferable. A leader’s job is to develop other leaders, keep the train on the tracks, and inspire all to become the best versions of themselves in service to your customers.

Believing that the leader needs to know everything is a challenging mindset to overcome, but it’s required if you want to be a leader who leads with clarity and inspires others to do the same.

People are also often afraid to ask questions because they recognize that they may have to take action or make a decision based on the answers. This can run the spectrum from relatively innocent situations in which a leader is facing a deadline and doesn’t feel that he or she has the bandwidth to deal with something else, to the more extreme end when a leader recognizes that asking a specific question could uncover an immoral or illegal act—or an expensive or high-risk problem that he or she would rather not know about.

Either way, recognize that when you choose to not ask a question that should be asked, you are engaging in clarity avoidance.



Take a clarity pause.

You may be thinking that all this clear thinking requires a lot of time—and it does. You need to schedule time to think, the same way you schedule time for meetings, or for dinner with family or a friend.

Understand that taking the time to enable clear thought in advance leads to better decision making and less rework than if you jump to make a decision or fulfill a task without taking the time for clarity. Or as I like to remind leaders, you need to go slow to go fast. Clarity of thought is impossible if you fill all your time with doing.

Clarity takes practice—especially in situations when we don’t naturally embrace clarity of thought, such as when we’re dealing with an emotionally charged issue, we’re rushing, or someone is demanding a response from us before we’re ready. But there is a significant benefit to slowing down: your thoughts and decisions are catalysts to action, and they hold the power to bring better results.



For more information, see Clarity First: How Smart Leaders and Organizations Achieve Outstanding Performance.

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