Dealing with a Poor Decision
Nobody is perfect. Even great leaders have to live with the negative consequences that come with bad decisions. Being a great leader isn’t about never making mistakes – it’s about your ability to bounce back and turn them into learning experiences. There’s no shame in making a poor decision, so long as you push forward and emerge as a stronger, smarter, and savvier leader.
The life of a leader includes constant decision making under some degree of pressure- the pressure of a deadline, the pressure of meeting specific goals, or the pressure of navigating a multi-faceted situation with many moving parts. In these cases, you use your best judgement to make tough decisions. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the results come crashing down like a Jenga Tower, leaving you staring at the bedroom ceiling in the middle of the night asking “how did I let that happen?” Here’s some advice on how to better handle tough decisions that don’t always pan out as planned.
Understand Your Decision
First and foremost, recognizing the difference between a bad decision and a wrong decision plays an integral role in honing leadership development capabilities. “Bad” decisions happen when you ignore important information. For example, it’s a bad decision to pick your best salesperson to lead the team when you have a folder full of complaints about their behavior with peers. “Wrong” decisions happen when you make a decision without any background information, such as making a plane reservation and picking the seat next to the bathroom when you didn’t have a seating chart.
In short, forgive yourself and move past the “wrong” decisions. If you’re going to kick yourself, do it for not learning fast enough from a “bad” decision.
Plan How You Will Do Better
A simple mental model can be used to raise our decision-making IQ. This model goes as follows: Write the decision as a short sentence, (if you can’t express it in under 10 words, you’re not there yet), define your criteria for a good decision, identify your options, score/rank them versus the criteria, and then make the call.
This might sound overly simplistic, but it’s effective. Our brains are naturally programmed to follow this method, and we already use it countless times every day without even realizing it. The rational side of our brains is naturally wired this way.
That being said, you must be actively aware of the process behind how you’re making decisions. You can’t improve on something you’re not conscious of, so slow down with mental downshifting. Remember when your parents told you to “sleep on it”? That’s valuable wisdom. Remember to recognize and acknowledge the steps. Ask yourself, have I defined the decision succinctly? Am I relying on facts or only assumptions? Have I identified and evaluated the options?
Check Your Emotions
When confronted with any important decision, paying attention to your emotions is extremely important. Extensive research has shown that emotions are often a negative factor in our decision-making process. Anger, sadness, frustration, and even happiness have been shown to influence our decision-making in ways that negatively affect the outcome.
Years back, a colleague of mine was offered an alluring job opportunity. He frequently expressed his interest in getting into a new industry, moving to a new city, and landing a position with higher upside potential. The job he was offered fit all of these criteria, so it seemed like common sense that he should take it; however, he underestimated how hard the transition would be from both a professional and personal standpoint. Looking back on his decision years later, he confided in me that the big raise, the impressive job title, and running a larger organization were emotional drivers that clouded his judgement on the difficulty of such a large decision. This begs the question: how do we deal with emotions when it comes to decision making?
A little self-awareness goes a long way. Accept that emotions will arise, but don’t let them influence you too heavily. Pay attention to yourself and ask “what’s really at stake for me in this decision?” If you’re a detail-oriented person who loves gathering information, consider your own emotions as important data. If you still have trouble leaving emotions out of important decisions, seek a candid opinion from a no-nonsense, straight-shooter in your life. We all have one of them who will tell us what we need to hear, whether we like it or not.
Accept Your Decision and Move On
Once your decision has been made, it’s been made. You made the call, lost some sleep, and will have to address the consequences to the best of your ability. If you’re still having trouble letting go, remind yourself that your accomplishments are the result of all the good decisions you have made up to this point, but the bad decisions have helped you develop into the person and leader you are today.
Life as a good leader is a marathon, not a sprint. The larger the scope of your responsibilities, the bigger the impact of your decisions. As your career advances, the scale and scope of your decisions increase, as will your confidence to make tough choices. Reflecting on, learning from, and moving on from your decisions is part of your path to great leadership. Embrace life and be prosperous.