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 Management Minute

"Decision is a sharp knife that cuts clean and straight; indecision, a dull one that hacks and tears and leaves ragged edges behind it." – Gordon Graham​

Let's start with the simple, a small whimsical example of decision making. This is the tale of two teenage decisionmakers, true life examples from the lives of our 15-year-old twins, Ariana and Tristan. So, Ariana is this laissez-faire teenager. The one without a care in the world really, but the one you often worry does not care enough. She breezes through her days, focusing on what's important to her, not worrying excessively about the small day-to-day decisions in her life or those around her. She takes life as it comes at her and doesn't concern herself so much when things do not go her way. Through Ariana's eyes, there's always tomorrow, the new day, when a different decision can lead her in a new direction. She is fully confident that she can correct course no matter the outcome, good or bad. Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, is her motto.

Then, there's Tristan. Tristan worries over every decision, big or small, significant or insignificant. He's the dweller, the one that frets, the one for whom NO decision is truly insignificant. There are repercussions to consider always. What are the pros and cons of this or that? Will I regret my decision? What will others think of my decision? What will I do if my decision ripples and causes something good (or bad) to happen? He seeks full input from all parties involved and wants to know how others are impacted by his choices. Decision making for Tristan is nearly painful, his teen brain so full of what ifs.

The point of these examples is not to critique our children's decision-making ability. There are truly distinctive differences between the two that are neither right nor wrong. The fact is, what works for one person does not work for another, purely because of our individual selves, our personalities, and our circumstances. Plus, decision making evolves as we age. A teen's process differs from decision making as an adult. Decision making, theoretically, can be honed with age and the added understanding of contributors to our decision failures and success.

This quote appealed to me because I've witnessed so many leaders (and supervisors) who are experienced and at the height of their careers really suffer and sometimes fail because they struggle with decision making. No one is truly immune and there have been times when we have all struggled with this affliction. Vacillating over decisions, or trying to saw with that jagged knife, when others in your organization are expecting strong leadership has true impact. Employee morale can plummet. A lack of confidence in organizational leadership and performance can quickly develop. You can lose the support of your senior management and other staff who seek opportunities to actively contribute expertise and witness you struggling on your own with no result in sight. And, equally important, indecision has known negative impacts on your own health and life satisfaction.

Whether you prescribe to the Tristan or Ariana decision-making process, there are some basic tactics that will help balance and bring you to decision points. Articulate what you wish to accomplish and why; set a deadline and stay with it; gather information about your options; seek expert or peer input if you are in unfamiliar territory; evaluate impacts; narrow your choices; pick an action; seek support; implement. Any of these steps can create a sticking point so think about the times that you have struggled most with a decision and consider what circumstances or stage of the process most often contributes to indecision. Dissect that step and think of how to overcome it in the future.

Don't be afraid to sharpen that knife. The result of a poor decision is more often than not better than inaction and its potential negative impact. That jagged edge hurts.

Comments, counterpoints, suggestions, or thoughts are always welcomed. E-mail me at lfreeman@amchp.org.