Failure is part of success
Six tips to improve your leadership decisions
We need to accept that we won't always make the right decisions, that we'll screw up royally sometimes — understanding that failure is not the opposite of success; it's part of success. — Arianna Huffington
Our decisions help define us as individuals and organizations — our great decisions and our poor ones. We can never entirely eliminate imperfect decisions. As Ms. Huffington suggests, we can learn from them and build successes after even our largest failures. There are also some things we can do to decrease their likelihood.
Play to your strengths. As with most things in life, self-awareness helps. Making decisions is no different. Are there some patterns about how we make decisions?
Is there something we do that tends to lead to better decisions? Are there questions we ask of ourselves and others that help us?
Manage your weaknesses. It’s also important to know what aspects of helpful decision-making we tend to naturally neglect.
Do you think primarily about financial metrics and fail to consider how a decision will affect people? Do you find it hard to think about consequences one year out? Two years out? Further?
Include people in your decision-making who think differently than you.
These principles can also help you manage weaknesses that are common to all us — the tendency to seek out information that confirms our current beliefs or opinions.
Having those around us who can present alternative views without the threat of dismissal can help us make better decisions.
Align your decisions. It’s easy in the midst of a fast-moving world to neglect the anchors or guides we intentionally create to help us when we need to make decisions.
For example, if your organization has put a stake in the group to focus on innovation, you have a primary filter for making decisions. Will this action enable innovation? But that question alone is not enough. The follow up question should be “How will this enable innovation?” If you can’t clearly explain that to yourself, you’ll never be able to explain it to others.
Be happy. Cool off. Our emotional state is a key influence on our ability to make decisions. With a slightly elevated mood, we have more insights and can see more options both of which are important to making decisions. When we’re angry or upset we tend to take fewer risks and are less likely to reframe our options to allow for better decisions.
Test it. When possible, test your preferred option in appropriate ways. Act “smartly” as quickly as you can. This means that you act quickly with the resources currently available to you, you know what an “acceptable loss” is and you don’t exceed it, and that you “bring others along to acquire more resources; spread the risk, and confirm the quality of your idea.”
A simple example of this principle is a pilot project.
Do something. Research suggests that we regret not taking action more than taking action. We regret not going to college, not taking risks in our job, more even than choices that weren’t the best decisions in hindsight.
These are just a few helpful principles to begin to improve your decision-making. You’ll learn more as you honestly assess the effectiveness of your decisions and are open to changing how you make decisions.
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect, Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to make decisions that are congruent with what you stand for, you may reach him at (314) 863-4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.