Business Decisions:
Navigating Barricades and Blockades

 

In my work as a coach, I have seen even the best leaders struggle from time to time with business decisions. Perhaps the most difficult are some of our own making: those innate traits that inhibit our decision-making process. Unfortunately, it tends to be easier to spot these traits in others. Ask anyone holding a stone and looking at a glass house. Executive coaches are trained to identify these human tendencies and help mitigate them to manageable levels.

The executive consulting firm McKinsey & Company describes a basic decisiveness barrier: being overwhelmed by a situation’s complexity. When this occurs, leaders experience anxiety, doubt and hesitation that can distort the thinking needed to make a wise decision. Everyone has a specific threshold for discomfort. If you’re easily taken aback by uncertainty, you’ll be challenged to effectively work through the decision process.

Associating a decision’s quality with its outcome is another damaging barrier. Leaders beat themselves up, thinking “I should have known better,” even when they’re not at fault. In Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts (Penguin, 2018), World Series of Poker champion Annie Duke calls this “hindsight bias,” which occurs when seemingly unassailable ideas fail after unforeseen factors take their toll. Leaders have a hard time seeing that unfortunate outcomes don’t necessarily mean their decisions were flawed. They may have made the best decision possible at the time, which is all anyone can do.

Leaders who struggle emotionally with failure often envision only positive outcomes, despite any information to the contrary. In their need for certainty and comfort, their thoughts can be irrational. They misunderstand causes and their effects, can’t spot some painful truths or avoid negative ideas. This roadblock to reality produces severe consequences.

An offshoot of irrational thinking is bias. Leaders may rely on a slanted worldview or preconceived opinion, passing input through a subjective filter. Leaders tainted by ingrained belief systems see and hear what they want to believe. Minimizing emotional threats insulates their beliefs and offers protection. Important decisions based on biased thinking are often riddled with errors.

Pride is yet another barrier to sensible decision-making. Leaders who believe they’ve cornered the market on good ideas dismiss others’ input. They avoid new thinking because they fear they’ll appear inferior. Prideful leaders sidestep risks or the unknown to prevent the kind of failure that draws questions about their competency. Pride also leads them to cover a trail of mistakes, which prevents them from learning. Decisions made under the influence of pride rarely go well.

Fear is perhaps the most stubborn barrier to effective decision-making. Leaders plagued with insecurities and terrified of failure worry about their image. Averse to risk, they lean conservatively, always concerned with the cost of a wrong choice. They’re prone to making decisions out of self-preservation, bypassing what may best benefit the organization. Most leaders’ fears are rarely justified.

What do you think? What decision-making barriers do you encounter most frequently? You can call me at 704-827-4474; let’s talk. And as always, I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.

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