After the usual pleasantries were exchanged over our favourite coffees at our usual table in our regular coffee shop, Paddy opined, “You spent a lot of your career advising bigwig executives, didn’t you?”
“I did,” I agreed. “Why do you ask?”
“Well,” he said, “I read this week that decision making is the most marketable executive skill. What do you think?”
“It’s certainly one of the most important skills required to achieve success,” I said. “And all the high–paid executives I knew were comfortable making decisions. So it would definitely be a factor.”
“OK, then,” Paddy went on, “what’s the main attribute of good decision makers?”
“They're not afraid of being wrong,” I answered. “They know that the only way to never be wrong is to never make a decision.”
“Let’s remove it from the executive suite,” Paddy suggested. “What’s the most important factor in making personal decisions?”
“There’s no difference between the two,” I told him. “A decision is a decision, and the same considerations apply whether it’s being made in the boardroom or the family room.”
“Do tell,” urged Paddy.
“Let’s start with the importance of your emotions being in neutral,” I said. “Decisions made in the throes of emotion, be it enthusiasm, anger, sorrow, humiliation, or whatever, often turn out bad.You should always eliminate options that you might regret later, and such options are more likely to be chosen when you’re overly emotional.”
“What’s next?” Paddy prod
“Next,” I offered, “is to gather as much information as you can before coming to your final conclusion. In most situations decisions are only as good as the information on which they’re based. An important step in getting the information you need to make sound decisions is to ask questions. I’ve rarely, if ever, regretted asking a question, whereas there’ve been many times when I’ve regretted not asking one. Even though there can be incredibly stupid answers, there really are no stupid questions.”
“Tell me more,” Paddy urged.
“While gathering your information you have to remain objective,” I explained. “Ignoring facts won’t change them; reality has to be faced. It’s not what you would like the situation to be that matters, it’s what the situation actually is that has to be dealt with.”
I paused to sip some coffee, but Paddy pressed on impatiently, “Tell me more about that.”
“You need to separate facts from opinions,” I said, “and give more weight to facts than to opinions. But facts are like stories, they need a context and should always be examined carefully to determine their relevance to the problem you’re dealing with.”
“Didn’t I hear you say one time that if someone wants a quick decision the answer should always be no,” Paddy suggested.
“Possibly,” I conceded. “The most important timing consideration is to avoid the two extremes: unwarranted delay on the one hand, and impulsive, snap decisions on the other. When being pressured into making a quick decision, the best answer is always ‘no’ because it’s usually easier to change a ‘no’ to a ‘yes’ than vice versa. Never rush a decision if there’s no compelling reason to do so.”
“And, the other extreme,” Paddy prodded.
“Procrastination isn’t desirable either,” I said. “Always factor in the consequences of inaction. For example, opportunities may be missed, or costs may increase. As a colleague of mine once put it, stare at anything long enough and it’ll start making faces at you.”
“Well,” Paddy asked, “what did you recommend about timing?”
“My barometer,” I told him, “was that when instinct and logic both pointed to the same decision, it was probably time to act.”
“Got any more points,” Paddy asked.
“Sure,” I said. “Good decision makers never over-complicate the process. Simple solutions may have to be discarded, but they should always be considered first. Another thing is that you have to think about what actions are necessary to make a decision work. And the final step is deciding how, and to whom, you’re going to communicate the decision and the actions needed.”
“Well,” Paddy said as he stood and shrugged into his coat, “I’m communicating a decision to you right now. I gotta go. See you next week.”
“Yep,” I said to his departing back.