Brown shoes or black? This destination or that one? More risk or greater security?
Every day, I make a lot of decisions, some big, some small. Naturally, I am always on the lookout for ways to improve decision-making. Regular readers know I'm not a fan of boiling difficult choices down to this or that. Whenever possible, I believe its better to take on two seemingly divergent things simultaneously. Disruptive or sustaining innovation? Tuning or transforming? More often than not, the benefits of doing both outweigh the extra effort that it requires. In fact, taking on two different things creates a multiplier effect in which one successfully executed decision can benefit another, and vice versa.
But what about instances when doing both is not an option? You can't go to two places at once, for example, or hire two candidates to fill a single position. For moments like these -- as well as times when you commit to doing both -- there are things you can do to improve the quality of decisions you make. Here are three suggestions.
Make definitive choices: The key to any decision, researchers have found, is making it decisively. A recent article for Fast Company highlights why. When you keep your options open, you deny yourself the benefits of what our "psychological immune system" can provide. It protects us in the aftermath of a difficult decision by reducing our inclination to second guess ourselves. Once you commit to a decision to pursue one objective -- or even two, the mind actively works to alleviate your stress by helping you move on to other matters. But it only works if you make a definitive decision. If you take a position on a fence instead, you'll distract yourself with doubts over whether or not you chose wisely. As every good leader knows, you can't get far in business sitting on a fence.
Get in touch with yourself: Writer David Brooks of the New York Times has a new book out, entitled The Social Animal. In it, he examines why people with superb social skills often wind up in leadership positions. Their high emotional quotients, he believes, help them better connect with people, leading to professional advancement. But only a fraction of emotionally gifted people lead effectively. Why? Brooks believes the answer is because we are taught to discount our emotions when it comes to decision-making. This, he believes, is nuts, and leads many otherwise talented people to make poor choices.
If you're not convinced, then try a little test the next time you face a tough decision. Chances are you'll stew over which option is better based on its pros and cons. Instead of debating endlessly with yourself, flip a coin, Brooks suggests. Don't go by what the outcome dictates, but rather your reaction to it. If your gut says "make it two of out three," then you know what you truly want. Effective leaders understand the value of human emotion and consider them when making difficult decisions.
Stand by your convictions: When he was a young man, jazz leader Wynton Marsalis told his father Ellis that he decided to follow in his footsteps and pursue music as a profession. But the younger Marsalis was worried about the hardships of late nights and deprivations of low pay. So he asked his father if he should form a backup plan in case he failed. No, said the elder Marsalis. "The only advice I can give you is don't have anything to fall back on... If you have something to fall back on, you gonna fall back." The point of the story? Unwavering commitment, the kind that comes from having no other option, can often spell the difference between success and failure. NASA's mission control specialists understand this. So do entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg and others who have stared down defeat. When faced with adversity, they don't give up quickly and switch to another option. Instead, they rely on their passion and will to carry them through.
So what about you: Do you make definitive choices? Are you in touch with your emotions or prepared to stand by your convictions? If so, then you're on your way to being an effective leader. If not, then consider the preceding advice. Not all of it will work in every situation, but it will serve you well just the same. As I have learned over the years, better decisions lead to better outcomes.
Wouldn't your organization -- and your career -- benefit from more of these?
Inder Sidhu is the Senior Vice President of Strategy & Planning for Worldwide Operations at Cisco, and the author of Doing Both: Capturing Today's Profits and Driving Tomorrow's Growth. Author proceeds from sales of Doing Both go to charity. Follow Inder on Twitter at @indersidhu.