In our projects, our jobs and our lives, decision-making is an important task. In our evaluation of our decisions, don”t look at them as “good” or “bad.”

Filling in the Blanks

Recently, a company consulted with me on their change management tasks. As part of that, we talked about getting information to stakeholders.

Here is what I said: it’s tricky to come up with a timeline for communicating information. It requires scrutiny and changes. If you send stakeholders too much information, they get overloaded and can’t determine what you meant to be the most important points. If you send them too little, they’ll fill-in the blanks for you.

When you don’t tell stakeholders information on a “timely” (yes, this is subjective) basis, they start to wonder what is going on and will come up with their own ideas. Then, they’ll talk to each other. Then, they’ll come up with some idea that might have nothing to do with your actual plan.

Why I Bring This Up

For those managers who claim that it’s not their fault that their teams went way off-base, making decisions and doing things on their own, I would say that’s not true.

These are the same managers who beat their chest and claim to be “great communicators.” Is it merely delusional? Most people have little time to sit and think about how “awesome” they are. Those who do, probably aren’t spending enough time “doing.”

When you’re leading a team you have to ensure that your team doesn’t go off without you. You have to communicate with them in a way to ensure that they’re doing what they’re supposed to and that they understand the decisions.

No Decision is a Decision

When you let everything just happen the way it’s going to happen – when you refuse to make a decision, this IS a decision. Later on, claiming it’s “not your fault” because you didn’t make this decision – it’s not true. You set the course of action by not taking a hands-off approach. Call it what you will, call it a tuna fish sandwich if you feel creative about it, but you made a decision.

When you handle things in this manner, you’ve made this decision. So, yes, you really are still responsible for where they take things.

When it’s Life, Death or Personal Well-Being

Our first responders have difficult choices to make when they’re faced with multiple issues and few resources. Yet many of the rest of us have had to make decisions in some part of our lives that do affect our own health and well-being, as well as that of others. Many of the rest of us do, at some point, also make decisions with serious outcomes.

No “Good” or “Bad” Decisions

This is where we start to get to the point – don’t look at decisions as “good” or “bad.” There are some decisions more informed than others. Some decisions are easier than others. Decisions can work out to have great or horrible outcomes.

Consider that there are two possible situations. Both are fraught with danger to yourself or another person. And consider that you have lots of information about the risks of each situation. In addition, each risk comes with a weight. This means that you can assess which ones are the most likely to happen in each situation.

Yet, each of these situations remains an extremely risky proposition. In addition, if you don’t pick one, the person (yourself or someone else) will probably just die or suffer some terrible fate. So, the “do nothing” decision leads to death. But the other two situations could also potentially lead to death.

I know that’s an extreme case, but I’m just pointing-out the situation where the non-decision is extremely harmful to get you to realize that non-decisions aren’t harmless. The non-death decisions are merely less harmful examples.

The Outcome

In any case, let’s suppose you carefully weight the options and you select one path. Next, as the outcome of that path, things go terribly wrong. Does that make your decision “bad”?

Now, you’re about to tell yourself you should have selected the other option. Yet, the other option could have had an equally bad or worse outcome.

The Real Point

When we’re entrusted with decisions, we have to make them. We have to do our best to use the information we have to get to the decision that seems most reasonable for the situation.

Yet, there will be times when we feel between a rock and a hard place. That doesn’t excuse us from making decisions. It just means we’re unlikely to feel good about our decisions.

And, with that, part of leadership is making decisions that we might not be able to feel good about. Leadership is about doing our best to lead by making the best choices we can.

As part of that, there will be decisions with horrible outcomes that we could not have done any better with if we’d made a different choices. We’re supposed to learn from these situations. One thing to learn is this – when you look at all the choices available, it could be that none of them has a pleasant ending. Sometimes, all we learn is that we make decisions and then we have to live with them.

One More Thought

If you still don’t believe this, here’s another example: suppose that you have to lay-off five of your ten people. Suppose they’re all great people. They all have strong work ethics. Each has a reason why they’re desperate to keep their jobs. They’re all equally skilled and trained.

In this case, whichever five you select, you probably will then not feel good about it. And that’s the nature of decision-making. We’re not required to feel good about it. In fact, it’s probably a good thing that most of us can’t feel good about a situation like this.

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