11/20/2014 06:00 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2015

Leadership Matters: Decision Making Strategies for Success

"As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it." - Antoine de Saint Exupery

Leaders make choices constantly. As a leader, you must develop the ability to think fast on your feet, in the middle of the race. If you spend too much time deliberating, opportunities will run right past you.

This is why it is critical that you spend time NOW developing a plan for your life.

You see, with a solid plan and a strong identity, your decisions are less difficult. When you know where you are going, it's easy to see the right path at each juncture.

The members of the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard University studied the decision-making process in world, business and personal leaders. The panel found that great leaders make choices within the framework of some common core strengths:

Leaders are passionate. They know that without passion, the drive to stay in the game fades, and it becomes difficult if not impossible to muster up the energy necessary to stick with a challenging project.

Leaders know themselves. They are aware of their skills, and they are clear about their weaknesses. They know when to ask for help, and when to assert themselves.

Leaders have learned that context matters. They are aware of the impact of various circumstances on their decision making process. They realize that certain events and people trigger strong reactions within them, causing them to make choices borne in emotion, rather than within the framework of a sold, flexible plan.

Consider the following example of a decision making process for three attorneys. All of them receive an identical call from a recruiter for a large law firm in the southern states. The recruiter is offering all three the chance to apply for a position with better pay.

Lawyer A, who has spent time developing her identity and forging a plan for her life, knows she wants to make partner. She is prepared with a few key questions that enable her to make a fast choice. Her answer is no, and she hangs up the phone, happy to be asked, even happier to know the answer without any struggle.

Lawyer B, who has also developed his identity and made a life plan, knows he wants to retire as quickly as possible so he can write a book about the law. He also has some pertinent questions for the recruiter. He asks about the location, and is pleased to learn that the opportunity is in the South, where he wants to retire. He is thrilled to learn that the firm specializes in interesting criminal cases, great fodder for a professional writer. He calls his wife, who has already agreed to move with him if the right opportunity arises, and gets her feedback and agreement. After a few more carefully planned questions, he moves forward with his application. He already knows that the temptations of the money and the climate trigger him to say yes too easily, so he prepares well in advance for the salary negotiations.

Lawyer C has not spent time developing herself. She does not have a plan. She is excited by the call. Double the money in a warmer place feels like a lucky break. She asks a few basically irrelevant questions and moves forward with her application. When she gets home that night, she argues with her husband, who really does not want to move. They don't talk about the future much. Lawyer C says no to the eventual offer and ends up resenting her family and her current employer.

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. And if you are making a plan without taking the time to know yourself first, you'll have a hard time avoiding burn out and failure. Too much energy gets used up as you try to make choices without a plan that is based on your particular goals.

Get to know yourself. Choose a purpose. Then make a plan. Make good choices based on your purpose and your plan for your life.

This is how you create the sustainable, sturdy leadership required to take you and your team where you want to go.

"The best way to predict the future is to create it." - Peter Drucker