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Embracing Doubt to Make Better Decisions

leadership transition Feb 01, 2024

- By Sophie Pinkoski

Galileo once said that doubt is the father of all invention. As a new CEO, embracing doubt is a crucial step toward effective decision making. Every decision you make comes with high stakes and the potential for far-reaching consequences. Managing uncertainty, constant market changes, and the diversity of stakeholder expectations can be a delicate balancing act. The reality is you won't be able to please everyone. Decision fatigue can set in when you’re overwhelmed with either too many options or too much information. A similar phenomenon happens when you have a shortage of sufficient data to make an informed decision. Both types of paralysis can lead to indecision, for fear of making the wrong decision. Don’t wait to have all the information before you decide. Delays can bring your organization to a stand-still.

Progress takes precedence over perfectionism; a wrong decision may be better than no decision at all.

Mistakes are inevitable, but they are also invaluable learning opportunities. Your decision-making style will evolve over time as you gain experience. Every decision you make will be different than the last. What worked for you last time may not be applicable to other decisions you make.

The key is to learn from your past successes and challenges and adapt according to what each decision requires.

You will gain a little more confidence with each decision. Stand by each one and be prepared to pivot when things don’t go as expected.

Here are some ways to ensure you make good decisions for your organization:

Define your organization’s goals –– Before you can defend your decisions to your team and stakeholders, it’s important that they understand the organization’s goals and purpose.

Aligning your decisions with the mission, vision, and values shows clarity of direction.

When faced with multiple options, identifying which most closely aligns with your organization's intentions is much easier if these aspects are properly defined. What’s more, giving your team a solid sense of how their role contributes to the organization’s goals will empower them to make good decisions in turn. Let them know what success looks like for the organization and how each decision builds toward those long-term objectives.

Build your emotional intelligence –– It’s impossible to make any decision without emotional influences. Every decision we make is emotionally driven based on the unique lens through which we each see the world.

Having the self-awareness to reflect upon your emotions and how they drive your decisions will help you understand your reasoning behind it.

Expressing this to someone else will also help you gain perspective on whether you’re on the right track. No decision you make should be in isolation. Your board and other trusted advisors are there to support your decision-making process. A strong relationship with your board chair will keep you focused on the organization’s highest priorities.

Streamline your data collection –– While your intuition is a key element of decision making, it’s important to balance this with logic. Set up a system that will allow you to collect and analyze good data for good decisions. Streamlining this system for maximum efficiency allows for timely data assessment as it's needed. Review what data you need and what data is missing.

In a constantly changing world, you won’t always have time to collect or analyze sufficient data.

Thus, depending on the heart-brain dynamic of data alongside intuition will help steer your decisions in the right direction.

Delegate your decisions – Not every decision must come from the top. Certain decisions can be delegated to your team. After all, you can’t be the number one expert all the time. The individuals on your team are there to complement your knowledge and skill gaps. They have the expertise to make decisions most relevant to them. Cross-functional decisions can also be made by others if all the leaders involved are oriented to the same strategic direction. That doesn’t mean all your decisions can be delegated.

Your role as leader is a strategic one– don’t get caught up in the weeds of everyday operations if you can help it.

Save time and energy for higher priorities that champion your organization’s mission, vision, and values, and set the tone for your team to create a psychologically safe culture. Give your team the development and resources that will empower them to make the best decisions on their own so that you can focus on the bigger picture.

Decision making is a collaborative effort.

Your board and team don't expect you to make decisions on your own. Embrace doubt and discomfort to make timely decisions for the betterment of your organization. You won’t always make the best decision, but every mistake you make is an opportunity to learn and grow. Making continual timely decisions will give your organization the fortitude to adapt to its ever-changing environment.

Further Reading

How CEOs Make Complex Decisions – Even When They Don’t Have the Intel, Russell Reynolds

CEO Decisions: What to Focus on, X Quadrant

5 Key Tenets of Decision-Making for Leaders and Executives, Vistage

The CEO’s Challenge: 7 Principles for Strategic Decision Making, Bird View

A CEO Decision Making Framework, LinkedIn

4 Ways CEOs Can Overcome Decision Fatigue, Vistage

Mastering Effective Decision-Making: Essential Tips for CEOs to Drive Success, Align

The CEO Conundrum: Decision-Making Under Pressure, Strathmore University Business School

Emotional Fortitude, Deloitte

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