One of the most important skills any leader can learn is when to be decisive, and when to take a step back and look at the wider picture before making the big calls.
In times of turmoil, excitement, rapid growth, or crisis, there will be more decisions to make than usual and less time to make them. There will also be an almost irresistible temptation to make these decisions as quickly as possible. A leader must be calm, confident in his choices, visible to his team and their customers, and in control of the situation.
However, this doesn’t mean rushing in and jumping to rash conclusions before knowing all the facts. I recently read a story about the businessman Stephen Covey’s lasting lesson: seek first to understand, then to be understood. He tells the sweet tale of a little girl holding two apples. Her mother comes in and asks her for one of the apples. The girl looks up at her mum and takes a bite of one apple, then the other. The mum looks disappointed at her daughter’s selfishness. Then the little girl gives one of her bitten apples to her mum, and says: “Mummy, here you are. This is the sweeter one.”
Even when we think we know all of the facts and figures, and have viewed every angle of a given scenario, the truth about a situation can be a big surprise. This is one of the things that makes life so exciting — just when we think we understand something, we learn something new.
This is why delaying judgement can be so useful in business. There have been many occasions when I have been tempted to make a snap decision and decided to wait until I can see the whole picture more clearly. These delays can mean missing the odd opportunity. One example that springs to mind is taking too long to decide to buy the rights to a new game called Trivial Pursuit. But for every missed opening, there have been several averted disasters.
There is a growing overreliance on using statistics as an alternative to using judgement. While facts and figures are extremely useful, data analysis shouldn’t solely drive every decision. The advertising guru David Ogilvy summed executives’ reliance on statistics over judgement: “They are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post for support, rather than for illumination.”
One vital component of decision-making that is often overlooked is quiet contemplation. After looking at all the stats, speaking to all the experts and analysing all of the angles, then take some time to yourself to think things through clearly. Take a walk, find a shady spot, or simply sit and think for a while. Don’t delay unnecessarily — but don’t rush either. Get that balance right, and you are far more likely to make the right call.