The First Decision You Always Make (part 1 of 3)

By Tom Davidson

In this blog series, we’ll discuss your decision-making choices, the pros and cons of those choices and some of the pitfalls in the decision-making process.

According to one source, a typical person makes 612 decisions a day, but as a manager and a leader, that number is easily doubled, meaning that in your job, you have to be a decision-making machine, making as many as 9,000 decisions a week! Moreover, because of the need to make a decision before every decision (explained below) you could be headed for a million decisions a year!

The problem is that machines with this kind of volume are sometimes put on automatic pilot, executing the given task without thought or question as they were programmed to do. Because of the sheer number of decisions you make, it’s natural to get into a certain rhythm yourself, making some decisions quickly and putting others aside, depending upon the subject, visibility and perceived consequences.

However, while the routine is understandable and necessary, it can be a bad habit to have and a hard one to break! In this blog series, we’ll discuss your decision-making choices, the pros and cons of those choices and some of the pitfalls in the decision-making process.

Deciding How to Decide
There is always one decision before every decision you make. It is how you will make that decision, and it could be the most important decision you make in the process. Here are your choices:

Non-decisions. Not deciding is still deciding. If you are aware of a decision that needs to be made and don’t make it, then you’re making a decision nonetheless. Postponing or ignoring the choice has consequences, so make this a conscious, not a default, decision.

Authoritative Decisions
Authority without input. Making a decision on your own, without consulting anyone. While expedient, risks low support for the execution of your decision, unless there is a strict hierarchy in place and high trust in your abilities, two very big “ifs.”

Authority with input. Making a decision that explicitly considers input, information or recommendations from others. Usually efficient and relatively easy to manage (when there is time), you risk eroding support if you don’t put the input to use. Don’t ask for it again unless you use the input and let other know that you did.

Collaborative Decisions
Collaboration to the point of general agreement. Making a decision to get others involved in the decision making process itself, not just asking for their data or opinions. With general agreement, the result is that most people end up agreeing with the decision but to highly varying degrees. This is a balance between expediency and quality, and is often a fallback position when consensus is unreached.

Collaboration to the point of consensus. Making a group decision that everyone involved will support, even if it was not their preferred option. Possibly the hardest decision-making method available, consensus decision-making is not the same as majority rule, but a longer and more involved process that requires significant time, facilitation, and give and take.

Majority rule. Making a decision based on simple voting for or against a particular option. What would call a highly democratic process; this expedient process always has “winners” and “losers,” which often results in significant discord, hard feelings and lack of support for executing the decision.

Compromise. Making a decision that gives everyone a little bit of what they want but also a fair amount of what they don’t want. Rather than being a “happy medium,” compromise often results in unhappy participants and poor results.

Delegated Decisions
Delegation without authority. Making a decision to let someone else decide a very simple task but within very strict guidelines that you provided. In this case, your delegate is more of a surrogate for you than a decision-maker themselves. As a result, they have little or no freedom to act on their own accord, adapt or take responsibility.

Delegation with authority. Making a decision to let someone else (or a subcommittee) make a decision on your behalf. In this case, you have given them the authority to act in the best interests of the organization and have given them the latitude to use their own judgment. Once delegated, a delegation with authority should not be second-guessed or pulled back except on rare occasions, because the delegate will put forth very little effort into your future delegations (i.e., “If you’re going to do it yourself, don’t give it to me in the first place.”)

Before deciding, pause more often to ask yourself, “What kind of a decision do I want this to be or does this need to be?” Doing so will improve your decisions, not just in terms of quality but in terms of execution, the subject of the next blog in this three-part series.

What are some other types of decisions that you must make before you make a decision?

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