Decision-making skills are important life skills and also critical skills for leaders. Wherever we end up in life, it is a direct result of the personal decisions we make along the way. Thus, the quality of your life depends on the quality of your decisions. If you are a leader, then the same will be true for your organization. The effectiveness of any organization is a direct result of the quality of the decisions made by its leaders. This is true whether you lead a commercial enterprise, a non-profit foundation, or a unit of government. Thus, developing your decision-making skills may be the most important thing that you can do for yourself or the people who depend upon you. Here are five ideas to develop better decision-making skills:
Study how experts in your field make decisions. Real experts have both expertise and experience. Some might say that they instinctively know what to do; however their instincts are based on years of experience and accumulated knowledge. In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell has concluded that experts generally spend 10,000 hours studying and practicing their craft to attain the expert level status. If you want to make good decisions, the best way to learn is to model what the experts do.
Use a decision-making model. Good decision makers follow a decision-making process. Although there are a variety of models, most follow as simple sequence: Assess the situation and gather facts, define the decision, consider the various courses of action, evaluate each course of action against decision criteria, and then make your decision. No decision model is perfect, but by consistently using a methodology, you can quickly assess a situation and decide on a course of action with confidence in the same way that a pilot can quickly decide what to do in various in-fight emergencies.
Immerse yourself in your area of expertise. Every field of endeavor has a base of knowledge that is required for success. A hallmark of an expert is that they have invested the time and effort to learn the fundamentals for their area of expertise. The reason that emergency room doctors or emergency medical technicians can make quick decisions is because they have spent time studying their profession. They know their business inside and out, They can easily make a quick analysis of any situation because it becomes second-nature to them.
Follow your intuition. As important as a detailed analysis of the facts and courses of action is the “gut feeling” that you have as a decision maker. As your experience grows, so will the power of your intuition. When you make a decision, it needs to “feel” good in addition to making logical sense. If it doesn’t feel right, then you might need to reconsider your options.
Continually learn from your own experience. Make a habit of evaluating your own decisions. Whenever you make a decision, make an appointment with yourself or with your team to re-evaluate the outcome of your decision. If it went well, determine why you had a good outcome so you can repeat what you did again in the future. If it did not go well, then try to understand why you did not have a good outcome, and determine what you could do differently next time. Additionally, you can also make a subsequent decision to make a course correction and achieve a better outcome. As you make more decisions and evaluate the outcomes, then you will build up a personal knowledge base of experience to leverage in future decisions.
Thus, you can improve your decision-making skills with study, practice and practical application of your knowledge. As you gain experience, you will develop your instincts and intuition for making quick and high-quality decisions in the same way that a general can scan a battlefield and instinctively know what to do. However, also know that no one makes great decisions all the time. Nevertheless, you must have confidence to make the best decisions with the best information available, and be prepared to make follow-on decisions as course corrections. Following these five tips will help you develop your decision-making skills and make better decisions for yourself and your team.