Similarly, businesses make decisions about mergers and acquisitions that are hundreds of millions of dollars, and to the senior leader it seems like, “Well this is a different situation than the last acquisition we made.” And yet in that room making the decision is a set of people who have probably seen a dozen acquisitions, but they don’t take the time to do even the equivalent of the three-out-of-five-stars rating that we would get from Amazon.com.
Why do you think that is?
Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership and writes features for the section.
(amazon.com) - Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip and Dan Heath
The kind of decisions that senior people make always present themselves as though they are completely different than anything else. Big decisions are subtle in a way because they all seem to come one at a time. The advantage of smaller decisions is we realize we are in a repeated situation where we’re going to see the same thing a lot.
Yet lots of big decisions end up having that property as well. If we take the time to move our mental spotlight around, we can always find other decisions that are similar to this one. We think the chief financial officer we’re trying to hire is in a unique position in the company, and that this is a unique position in time with unique demands. But the fact is, we’ve made other senior hires and we know how that process goes. Stepping back and taking in the broader context is just as useful for senior leaders as it is for the frontline worker who’s making a decision on the 35th mortgage application or the 75th customer complaint.
What have you personally taken from working on this book?
I’ve been struck by how often I don’t consider more than one alternative at a time. It’s just so seductive to get an opportunity that you often don’t think about it in the broader context of all the decisions you’re making. And you don’t step back and think, “Are there ways of doing this and that?” Things that seem mutually exclusive very often are not. Take the time to ask yourself, “Is there more than one thing that I could do here?” That’s been incredibly useful to me in my personal life.
A lot of leaders have the experience of waking up at 2 a.m. and starting to think about a decision. All of a sudden the adrenaline kicks in and you’re wide awake. The advantage of having a process that’s systematic is, if you know you’ve considered multiple alternatives and you know you have a trip wire set so you’re never going to go too far wrong without reevaluating, there is comfort in knowing you’ve done everything you can do. There are times that helps me get back to sleep.
How do you know when you’ve landed on the right decision?
The closest thing to a decision-making magic trick that I’ve found is the question, “What would you advise your best friend to do if they were in your situation?” So often when I ask that question, people blurt out an answer and their eyes get wide. They’re shocked at how easy it is when you just imagine you’re advising someone else.
Cunningham edits On Leadership for The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @lily_cunningham.
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