Should I quit my job or stay where I am? Should I have cereal for dinner, or is it really only for breakfast? Should I put my bonus check in the bank or reward myself for a job well done? We are regularly faced with choices. For the more significant decisions, we may carefully consider the possibilities. Yet some decisions seem so easy we wonder if there could be a catch, so we analyze those as well. We probably all have experienced times of complete mental overwhelm, when it feels as if we cannot possibly make one more decision in that moment.
When my daughter was out on her own and would be in town on business, she would ask me on occasion where I wanted to meet her for dinner, I would automatically say, “It doesn’t matter. Whatever restaurant you want to go to is fine with me.” There were some problems with that reply.
First, I am a vegetarian so it actually did matter. Second, not any place is fine with me because I do not enjoy over-the-top restaurants or ones with a two-hour wait. I found that I was conveying that my opinion didn’t matter to me when, in fact, it did.
I rationalized that it wasn’t worth risking having an argument about dinner. After all, I love my daughter so much, don’t see her that often, and was taught to pick my battles. Of course, not making a decision is also a choice. Occasionally my choice to avoid choosing led to the disagreement I was trying to avoid.
I began considering other situations where I took a back seat by not expressing my preference or making a decision. Just because the matter at hand wasn’t earth shattering, did that mean I shouldn’t express myself? How might others view my indecisiveness?
I know I am not alone in my now former habit of disregarding my interests and avoiding making a decision. Many women do this throughout their personal and professional lives. Sure, it can be satisfying to collaborate, solicit opinions, and receive support from others, but as a leader you have to take a stand and make decisions even when it is uncomfortable.
Being decisive does not mean you are a control freak or that everything must go your way or the highway. It simply means you make a decision. You may not end up loving all your decisions. Mistakes or missteps are inevitable, but the people that work with and for you likely will appreciate a leader who creates opportunities by being decisive.
While great decisions can lead to terrific results, decisions that are less than great can create opportunities for valuable lessons learned. Some people refer to this as course correcting. When this happens to me, I like to have a little fun with it by declaring, “Plot twist!”
In an article in the New York Times, Therese Huston reviews studies that answer the question, “Are Women Better Decision Makers?” The studies show that, under stress, there are gender differences and women tend to perform better. In stressful situations, women typically take smaller, measured risks and are more able to consider another person’s perspective. Men tend to take bigger risks for bigger wins, even when they are more costly and unlikely. She concludes with a study that revealed large-cap companies with at least one woman on their boards significantly outperformed comparable companies with all-male boards. There you have it.
Here are some ideas about making those difficult decisions for yourself:
First, listen to your gut. Many of us refer to this as our sixth sense. When you are meeting someone or trying to make a serious decision, your gut can be a valuable barometer … if you listen to it. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that choosing to disregard or go against my gut wreaks havoc, or at a minimum, causes considerable stress.
Once when I was offered a contract to provide training for a company, I was initially super excited about it and too hastily agreed to do it. After I sat down and more fully considered the opportunity (that I had already said yes to), I had to admit it had nothing to do with my Selling In A Skirt brand or my material.
Even though the terms of the contract were great on paper, my gut was yelling at me to step away from the assignment. At first I tried to ignore my gut and rationalize I could make the assignment work. But I couldn’t overlook the back pains, stomachaches, and the feeling I can only describe as an alien screaming inside me. When I decided to go back to the company and respectfully explain why I needed to decline the contract, my gut was happy again and so was I.
Now it’s time to gather all the facts. To make an informed decision, learn as much as you can. I am not talking about running a background check on a potential date. Rather, I am referring to big decisions like changing careers or investigating medical treatment options. Being informed is being responsible.
Next, use the trusty method of writing down a list of pros and cons. Not only can this help clarify factors in the decision you are facing, it may also uncover additional possibilities.
After I make my lists, I check back in with my gut. Then I take full responsibility for my decision.
I encourage you to do the same. Especially as a leader, it is imperative that you take responsibility for your decisions. While you may want to talk things over with trusted colleagues or friends during your decision-making process, remember that ultimately the choice you make is your own. Make sure you are making the best decision you can with the information you have and not taking an easy way out to avoid leaving your comfort zone.
Finally, give yourself permission to make mistakes. No one is perfect. Attempting to be is impossible and exhausting. If you make a mistake, make a change. I always say that every mistake I have made has been a lesson learned. I bet you will not make the same mistake twice, and if you do, perhaps there was another lesson embedded in it. I have developed my own system to check-in, check-up and check-out. It’s my 3Rs… Review, Readjust, and Release. I’m sure you will realize that the Release portion is the hardest and that goes right back to where we started…making those tough decisions.
Remember, when you need to make a hard decision flip a coin. Why? Because when the coin is in the air, you suddenly know what you are hoping for.