Sometimes my timing baffles even me. I had this topic picked out over a week ago, and it just so happens that Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, Inc did something that completely epitomizes this post. If you haven’t heard, Steve Jobs resigned his position as the CEO of his company because he felt he “could no longer meet my duties and expectations,” which he had done so well for so long. However, I am not here to only talk about Steve Jobs and Apple (as most other people are in media right now). Instead, this post is more generic, and relates to every single person on the planet (not just billionaire CEO’s).
I am writing today about making tough decisions. Everyday, we are faced with tough decisions to make. If you don’t think you’re faced with them, well then maybe you’ve got it all figured out already… but for the rest of us, I’ve created a short guide to help you through the decision-making process. The focus is to consider all major externalities and direct results of the decision, while still being efficient with the decision, and finally to be confident with the decision. If all of those pieces are in place, then you will know you have made the correct choice, and can move on to the next challenge.
Put yourself in the shoes of an NFL coach. It’s 4th down and 1 yard to go. It’s the fourth quarter and you’re down 4 points. At the 25 yard line, a field goal does you no good with the score where it is. There’s 3 minutes left on the clock; barely enough time for one more possession from the other team and a punt. What do you DO? Sometimes our decisions feel like that. You have a limited amount of time to decide something that can cause wave after wave of repercussions. Whether those results are positive or negative can depend entirely upon your decision. Wow. Screw that, right? Well let’s break down how to make those decisions not seem so daunting, and then to execute with swiftness and effectiveness. Ready….. GO.
Create a Framework
1.) The Options. Before you can do anything, you really want to know what your options are. Since this is a difficult decision, hopefully you’ve narrowed it down to one to two options. If you’re faced with a difficult decision that has three or more possibilities, then your efficiency will be greatly reduced in deciding. Regardless, make sure you have the options laid out before you, and make sure they are distinct of one another.
2.) Pros and Cons. In order to make tough decisions, you need to know what happens to you when you decide one way or another. The good versus the bad. There are a few ways to do this, but the easiest way is to make a list. Just take a piece of paper for each option you have, write a line down the middle, and on one side put pros; on the other put cons. You want to focus on things that affect you, your business, or your relationship directly; we will get to the larger picture later. Once you have the list written out, then you will have a tool to use in helping you make the decision. This isn’t the only thing to use though, so don’t just pick whichever looks better on paper. Follow the other steps to frame the decision, THEN act.
3.) Externalities. If you’ve ever taken a class about business, then you know what externalities are. The classic example is building a manufacturing plant near a river and the pollution poisons the water of a town 30 miles downstream. Obviously, not all of your decisions are going to be on this scope, but still, it is important to consider who else will be affected by what you do; and by how much. If you’re going to ruffle some feathers with your decision, it might be fine. If you’re going to get someone fired, you might want to reconsider.
1.) Prioritize. I am anything but a proponent for procrastination; but if this tough decision isn’t the most important one you have to make, then push dealing with it back. You want to tackle one problem at a time, no matter what the difficulty. When you prioritize, it will reduce your stress and make you more effective at making your decisions. If you simply focus on the more difficult problems first, then you are putting things off that may be more pressing, which causes you to rush decisions that need to be given some time. Sounds contradictory, I know, but trust me; time sensitivity is key. If you are put in the position where two decisions need to be made near the same time, make the easy one first, so you can focus all of your effort on the hard one (like taking a multiple choice test).
2.) Use Your Gut. Instinct is something that is greatly overlooked by SO many people. We were given it for a reason people! When it comes down to making a tough decision, sometimes you will be going against what your pros and cons list says (if they are of similar length) because your gut tells you to. So just remember to take your first instinct to heart, because it can be the deciding factor in the end.
3.) Stick to it. After you’ve made the decision, you simply need to stick to it. Don’t backtrack if at all possible. It wastes time, obviously, but it also makes you look bad. Real bad. This leads us into the final stage of the decision-making process; having confidence.
1.) Stop Doubting. If you are set on which decision you are going to make, then stop worrying! You’ve done your homework, and you’ve used your gut, and now it’s time to act. The more you think about the negative consequences AFTER you’ve made the decision, the more likely they are to occur. Be prepared for them, yes, but don’t focus on them. Once you remove doubt, you will see that you made a great decision.
2.) Don’t Be Defensive. When someone questions a decision you’ve made, it can be easy to get defensive about it. Don’t. Instead, ask them if they’d like to know how you came to your decision and if they have input into the decision-making process. If they say yes (doubtful) then show them. If not, you win.
Make the Call
So now you’ve prepared yourself completely. You have laid the options out on the table. You have considered the pros and cons, or DIRECT results of your actions. You have considered the externalities, or who might be affected down the road or somewhere you will never see. You have prioritized. You have listened to your gut instinct. Those are the tools to make the decision. Before you do, though, you have to remember what to do afterwards. You know you have to stick to your decision. You know to stop doubting once you have made it. And, you have to remember to not be defensive, in order to stay confident in your decision. With all of these pieces in place, it is time to decide.
You’re the coach again. You followed the steps and you know what you are going to do. So do it, and do it with efficiency and confidence. Doubters will come, and you may doubt yourself; just remember to let that go. No one can tell you that you made a bad decision if you follow these steps. Think about Steve Jobs. He had to follow these steps in deciding to step down from Apple. No one was telling him to, but he did it anyway. Why? Because he considered his options; his failing health, his family, and his company. He prioritized and used his gut. The result? A more than qualified successor taking over the most successful U.S. based company. I’m not worried, Steve’s not worried, and neither should you be. Those are the kind of decisions that we all dread aren’t they? But we don’t have to.
Always remember; frame the decision, be efficient with the decision, and be confident with YOUR decision. The rest will fall into place from there. Good luck out there readers… not that you need it.