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How leaders can master the dilemma of decision making

One more important point to note here is that we need to accept that it is impossible to have perfect information all the time.

Chiranjiv Patel | New Delhi |

Making decisions is an integral part of human life. It’s a cognitive ability that sets us apart from all others. The decisions that we take today shape our future tomorrow – whether on a personal level – decision to follow a healthy lifestyle or to give in to the incessant allures of fried food, sleeping late, mindlessly passing time on internet; or at professional level – opt for industry C or industry D, opt for Strategy A or Strategy B.

So how do we decide? We choose wisely from available alternatives. And how to choose wisely? Select a choice based on our need, previous knowledge, and cognitive abilities.

The task of decision making is perhaps the biggest hallmark of an entrepreneur. The leaders at managerial and entrepreneurial position need to make multiple decisions – both big and small – on any given day. And it’s the better decision-making ability that sets the leader apart (and ahead) from others.

But leaders too face dilemmas, especially when taking tough decisions.

Here are a few pointers and processes that can be applied to make taking decisions easier:

1. Start with a reason; define a concrete result required – The best way to start with making a decision is knowing and outlining in concrete terms the end-result we want to achieve and why. As George Harrison famously crooned, “If you don’t know where you are going; any road will take you there.” Simon Sinek, author “Start with why”, says start answering a why you need to take a decision, towards what purpose.

2. Gather information, define internal and external limitations – Collect as much information as possible but do not drown in it. Data by itself is useless unless the information is culled out and analysed for specific, understandings, takeaways and practical applications.

Information can be internal or external. Information needs to be analysed for opportunity spotting, problem-spotting, deciphering trends, predicting future. External information provides a picture of threats and opportunities. It is important to check for legal provisions, ramifications, government policies, global and local economic outlook and any other limitations which may affect a decision directly or indirectly. Internal information gives the leaders a true picture of organizational strengths and weaknesses, the limitations that are internal to the said organization. This kind of SWOT analysis also brings to light controllable and uncontrollable factors. Within the perimeters set by uncontrollable factors, leaders need to take a measure of how much the controllable factors can be varied.

One more important point to note here is that we need to accept that it is impossible to have perfect information all the time. In an imperfect world where we live, situations keep changing; it is unwise to wait for 100% information.

3. List down the choices, select the ones that compliment your organizational values and priorities–Once you have all the relevant information, your strengths and limitations, list down all the probable choices. But all choices may not suit your purpose. If the organization is committed to environment, then only eco-friendly choices would matter. If the organization is committed to employee welfare, then ALL the choices need to conform to this commitment. Where brand enhancement is the motive, the profit maximization route may not work.

Bin the choices that are not complementary to your organizational values, priorities and the end result desired. Narrow down the final list of options.

4. Apply your intuition but remove the emotion and minimise dogmatism – To the list so obtained above, apply your intuition, your gut instinct. But remove the emotion from the equation and try to minimise dogmatism. Gut instinct is sharpened by your experience. Listen to it. We are humans, emotions define us but try to remove emotions from the decision-making process by making the process analytical – based on pros and cons. While experience sharpens our instinct, it can also make us dogmatic in our approach. It is always beneficial to keep ourselves open to new information, new approach – open and flexible to any change which may be good.

5. Choose the best course, not choosing a course is also a choice – Once the above steps are completed, take the plunge and choose the best course or best alternative in view of limitations, strengths, priorities, time etc. Even when we have only one course to decide on – the veritable Hobson’s choice – we have the choice of not choosing it. That too is a decision made.

6. Stay the course, take onus – Once you have taken a decision, trust yourself, stay the course. Accept that decisions go right, and decisions go wrong. Take the onus of your decisions but do not second guess yourself all the way unless some new information surfaces or new limitations arise. In that case, be flexible enough to change course as per the new situations – but then it becomes a whole new cycle of decision making, doesn’t it!

This cycle of decision making is best described by the OODA loop, developed by military strategist and United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd, which works well in commercial matters too. The loop, in a nutshell, describes the process of decision making where the decision-maker goes through the stages of observing –orienting –deciding –acting. A leader, military or political or commercial, is always in this loop – always making decisions.

(The writer is MD, PC Snehal Group)