We make 35,000 conscious decisions a day. Everything from what to eat and what roads to drive to what new strategy to bet on at work.
The ever-changing market of the last two decades has called upon leaders to be dynamic and growth-minded. And this past year, the moving floor beneath our feet dropped three feet suddenly. Again and again we’ve learned that getting comfortable is a thing of the past. Instead, we must get comfortable with change.
As a leader, you’re being paid to make good decisions. Decisions that deliver upon your organization’s goals: profit, growth, efficiency, etc. Decisions also build upon themselves. With every big decision, many smaller ones follow. So making a good decision early on is far more valuable than fixing a bad one later.
You have to become an amazing instant data miner. That means developing the ability to see, hear, and sense a situation--and then quickly make a decision as if you had a crystal ball.
Dynamic decision making is about leading from a place of opportunity instead of falling back on proven models and past performance. I recently connected with a former colleague on this very topic. He shared how releasing the pressure to know the right answer and allowing for quick decision-making to try new ideas and strategies in real time has led to seven years of profit growth, despite everything going on around them. The company has reinvented its model and tactics several times, but the freedom to make decisions without an overdependence on previous data has been fruitful.
Good decisions used to be made by leaders seeing trends from the past and pulling the thread forward in continuation of what was, only with optimizations along the way. Now, decision making is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle dumped on a table: You have to start fresh with each new puzzle, though you can (and should) use strategies to solve it just as you have other puzzles in the past (for example, separate the edge pieces first, find the corners, group like colors/patterns, look at the picture on the box, etc.).
Likewise, there are strategies we can use over and over again to make accurate decisions in the face of uncertainty and change. Instead of creating a linear path from the past to the future, we need to learn to be present and respond in the moment.
I call this approach to decision making “human-centered planning” Think of this as your data-gathering tool that can read beyond what’s known. How do you get there? With something important yet scarce in today’s world: presence.
Presence is the most efficient way to arrive at an accurate decision.
Here’s how it’s done:
Step 1: Gather data: find out the context, the known information and the thinking behind the question
This seems obvious, but most people do not actually listen, they predicate and center decisions around what they know, not what the person asking them the question knows. Here’s a tip: If you’re already formulating an answer while someone is still asking the question, you’re not listening. Listen with a focus on them, not you. In addition to their words, pay attention to body language, tone of voice, side comments, and tangents. If you receive a question over email that needs a strategic response, get the person on the phone or Zoom to ask you the question sharing the full context. Remember, your goal in becoming an accurate in-the-moment decision maker requires you to gather all the information available.
Step 2: Gather feeling: confirm what you heard and share what you feel
After you’ve listened with presence, gathering the context, known information and thinking behind the question, check in with your own feeling. What did you sense from the person asking you the question? What emotions surround this decision? Is it anxiety, impatience, a need for perfection, fear…? You can share this by using the prompt, “What I heard was… [repeat what you understand the question to be and the major points of data]; what I felt was… [ share the feeling you sense around the decision].”
For example: “What I heard is that we have to make a quick decision on whether we keep our current distribution center or move to one with more space now in anticipation of next quarter; what I felt was uncertainty about whether this is really an urgent need.” Then stop talking and listen again. This prompt allows you to gather more information -- information that often lies beneath the surface undetected and yet plays a very real role in arriving at the best decision.
In coaching, we use the phrase “What else?” to dig deeper and uncover more information that may not have made it to the conscious level of thinking, though it’s very real, accurate data that can inform a decision.
Living as a dynamic leader -- and human being -- is admitting that you don’t know anything except what’s right in front of you… what’s happening right now. In the movie Any Given Sunday, Al Pacino says to his team in the locker room, ”Life is the six inches right in front of your face.” Meaning, all that is to come is determined by what’s right in front of us.
Life and leadership requires you to be present, pay attention and solicit more than what’s being shared. Coaches are masters at this; in fact, this is exactly what coaches mainly do: Listen, ask the right questions to uncover hidden motives and feelings, and guide clients to make the best decision they can with ALL the information they have.
What would it look like to move through life fully present, taking in all the information available to you? Being so alive and alert that you notice when the sun hits your skin, or the rustling of leaves from a critter passing by, the subtle expression on the face of a team member feeling defeat? In my experience life becomes rich and interesting and reveals all we need to know to make good decisions that unlock opportunity and the best possible outcome.
So often we edit what we want to see or what supports our story of who we are or who someone else is… or how life (and work) works. I am inviting you today to approach every decision that comes across your desk with more aliveness and curiosity to what’s underneath it. To embody a more dynamic way of being that will benefit you at work, at home, and within.
Join our Community Call on February 3rd to practice your listening skills by listening to other people’s stories. What can you discover about someone through observing all of what they share? We’ll be talking about life-changing moments and how to empower ourselves for what we want to create next.