Like a ship’s navigator, leaders need to approximate their position, make a decision, and move on

By Tom Davidson

I recently interviewed Scott Wallinger (left) for my podcast, an iconic manager and leader in the forestry profession (, and Scott reflected on his lessons in leadership through the lenses of history and experience.

Near the end of this episode, Scott talked about the tendency of foresters to analyze things until they have the answer precisely right, and then he quickly pointed out that leaders don’t have that luxury. Scott said that leaders have to gather what information they can, “get in the ballpark,” and make a decision, knowing that adjustments will have to be made along way.

My data bears this out. Having done hundreds of personality profiles of foresters and other natural resource professionals, our science-based community – as a whole – tends to (is wired to) gather data – sometimes beyond the point of diminishing returns – and hold on to the status quo until something better is proven. On one hand, this is our strength, but on the other, it is our downfall.

As Scott says, leaders don’t often have the luxury of time and analysis paralysis. So if you want to succeed in your roles as a leader, you’ll have to learn to take more risks in your decision making, not headlong, irresponsible or safety related risks, but the managerial and leadership variety. This means being quick and approximate, seeing what happens, and then making new decisions on what is learned.

So the next time your involved in a decision at work that has already been analyzed several times, already been talked to death, already been through committees and task forces, do the following:

1. First, decide how you are going to decide. Will it be the leader’s decide on her own, the leader’s decision with input, consensus, or general agreement?
2. Second, list all your options, including the choice of not deciding and letting things continue as they are. As long as this is a conscious choice, it’s valid. If it’s just being lazy, it’s not a valid option.
3. Compare the pros and cons of each choice side by side, both qualitative and quantitative.
4. Then make a decision and make a plan to make it work. Don’t look back. Look forward.

It’s not your job to make everyone happy. It’s your job to make things work, and that often means taking some risk because you can’t predict the future. You can only shape it. It’s the nature of decision making, and it’s the Nature of Leadership.

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