We are living in anxiety-provoking times, and, yes, as leaders, we are indeed affected. Why? Could it be the impact of COVID-19 that shatters confidence in our systems and structures? Honestly, I do not know if there is any one single answer; but I do know that many leaders are second-guessing themselves when it comes to the process of critical decision-making. This month, I need to give some tips that might help you chart a better decision-making course. It starts with being W I S E —just another take on wisdom.
W I S E
Why is a decision needed?;
Integrate as many disparate options as possible;
Separate work and home life;
Enjoy the journey of decision-making.
While two of the four concepts are directly related to the decision circumstances, the remaining two focus solely on you, the decision-maker.
Many are seeing the systems and structures they were once so confident in being attacked by invisible forces. For some, the impact of COVID-19 increased bottom-line metrics. For others, it caused restructuring on the fly. Which category are you in? Are you one of the leaders who may have seen your systems and structures crumble? Or are you fortunate enough to have seen exponential growth in your bottom line, on the one hand, while also having no idea how to sustain it on the other hand? Or succinctly put, while the bottom-line is profitable and you know your organization swelled, you are just waiting for the "pop." Whichever camp you are in, you have to make critical decisions.
I have personally experienced both spectrums in my career. To help me make critical decisions when I do not have a clear roadmap, I remind myself to be WISE. Could it be that simple? Let us journey together as we explore being WISE.
Why is a decision needed?
I know, I know, that's too obvious, but not really and not so fast. Often, when pressing to make critical decisions, it is easy to lose sight of why a decision is being made at all. You may think my "why" refers to conditions related to the decision. But my "why" is larger than that. I am speaking of what value results from making this decision. How will this decision be consistent with the team and organization's mission, vision, or goals? Too often, when dealing with the pressure of a pending decision, we get so caught up in making the decision that we lose sight of how the decision translates throughout the organization. Don't get me wrong; this is not always easy to determine. We often assume the decisions being made relate only to the contemporaneous conditions readily apparent, and yes, some decisions are just that, but others may carry a more profound, more significant impact. In grade school, we learned that you could not define a word using that word in its definition, so we had to find other words to describe what we were trying to define. We introduced words that were consistent with our understanding of how we could use the term. Likewise, when making a critical decision, don't be satisfied or lulled into letting the surface conditions be the totality of our understanding. Look beyond the obvious and focus on how the decision will complement and ultimately further the organization's goals. When you make that kind of effort, you ensure that your decision is consistent with the work's core. I am encouraging you not to make decisions just because a decision needs to be made but to examine the decision's impact on your "WHY."
Integrate as many disparate options as possible.
As I listen to my client leaders discuss challenges in making critical decisions, I often ask a simple question. Why do you need to choose one over the other? Too often, we limit the effectiveness of our choices because we approach things as binary. This binary approach is expected. I mean, we live in a world where someone wins, and someone else loses. We give it our all, or we give nothing at all. We require people to accept our way or...let me not use the implied cliche! Integration, at its best, is the bringing together of separate things or people. Integration takes time, energy, and effort. Good leaders integrate ideas and try to develop blended solutions that promote more wins and fewer losses. It is never an easy proposition, but the payoff is monumental in the long run. When a leader can fashion a way to integrate ideas or options, a better decision is likely. Now some of you may challenge this thinking. But remember: it is futile to prioritize short-term gains over long-term results when the inclusiveness of integration could make the difference.
Thus far, we have considered the concepts that surround the conditions and the decisions. Now, I want to focus on your mindset when it comes to making a decision. An old adage says, "never go to the grocery store to shop when hungry." When you do, you overbuy, and everything looks good because it has the potential to satisfy your hunger. If you are not hungry and disciplined enough to shop from a list, you remove such temptations. The shopping list, you see, helps to control your mind and your urges. My last two tips will personally help you when making critical decisions, so let us continue to explore.
Separate work and home life
Work –activity such as a job that a person uses physical or mental effort to do. (Cambridge Dictionary)- usually for the exchange of something like money.
Life – the aspect of existence that processes, acts, reacts, evaluates, and evolves through growth. (philoshphynow.org)
Many of my clients confess that because of COVID-19 and working from home; they no longer have a work-life balance. The one thing they use to dread was their commute time. Now that they have lost their commute time, they want it back. Those working at home go from their bedrooms to their office without changing environments or physical addresses or …dress. By the end of the day, zoom fatigue has settled in. Pre-COVID-19, many left their work at the end of the day to be picked up the next day. After completing our regular working hours in our home offices, we go back and forth as ideas emerge, and it's like a continuum. We can go from bed to office in seconds. We move so quickly that we may miss the pleasures of enjoying the presence of a new day. We rush to our never-ending meetings, and we wonder why we are so stressed. Leaders must recognize this as a hazard for themselves. More importantly, they need to protect their followers by acknowledging the need for boundaries and realizing the potential negative impact such work practices might have on their lives.
I remember one day taking a look at some of the leaders above me in my corporate organization. Sadly, many had dysfunctional families. Yet, they claimed they were working so hard for their families. What a dichotomy! Are you working so hard for your family that you fail to embrace the basic psycho-social needs of connectivity and caring? What do we do with the things we amass when we have no one to share with all we have gathered? Just like a coach, right, to come up with question after question. Well, I hope these questions cause you to contemplate and decide where you are on this spectrum. But instead of you making that assessment on your own, why not ask your family to help? Do they want more "things," or do they want more of you? Right this ship soon. Avoid having workers and followers who are of no good to themselves or your businesses because they have burned themselves out. Be sure to separate work life and home life when you are making critical decisions.
Enjoy the journey of decision-making.
To realize this tip's beauty, you must acknowledge that the environments surrounding many situations are temporary. It may sound simple, but this is perhaps the hardest. It is the reason we stay up at night worrying about what to do. It is the reason we sometimes take matters into our own hands and try to manipulate the circumstances to trend in our desired direction. I am sure you can come up with several other reasons. But suffice it to say, worrying and manipulating the situation will not bring about change, only time will. In our fast-paced society, we often catch ourselves trying to rob or shorten the time it takes to affect change. We do not want to wait for anything, and we don't want to allow things to mature. We want instant gratification. As leaders, this tendency for instant gratification almost always ends up with our spending more time than was initially expected. We often face this critical impasse later as we learn the tangible and intangible impacts of what we hurriedly decided. Time allows for knowledge, learning, and better understanding. I can remember a mentor once saying, " let's stop forcing a decision for now and come back later to see if our perspective has changed." But don't just take my word for it; take a moment to look at your own experiences to see if you can agree. Examine poor critical decisions you may have made in the past. Were they made because you were pressed for time and too afraid to wait? Do not cheat the process, be honest with yourself. Others may never know about the situation, but you do. Enjoy and embrace the luxury of reflection: The tincture of time is powerful. The exercise of self-analysis is empowering. Enjoy the journey of decision-making with your, now, more enlightened terms of engagement.
I hope that my suggestion to be WISE and the scenarios we have explored will give you more perspectives to consider when making critical decisions. I think you will be a better leader when you do. Now go forth and #LEADPerpetually.