Decision making is a critical leadership skill that surfaces often in the work of coaching. It can be fraught with all sorts of impediments and perceptual filters that prevent us from understanding the larger picture of things. I am going to share with you one of the biggest decision making tips for managers that will transform your company before your eyes.
Being more curious about issues at the periphery of things is one that we can develop. “A remarkable aspect of a leader’s mental life is that she or he is rarely stumped,” said Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in economics for his research on the way that people’s decisions depart from the strict rationality assumed by economists.
In his classic book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman describes the ease with which we draw conclusions. “The normal state of your mind is that you have intuitive feelings and opinions about almost everything that comes your way. The problem is that we are quick to jump to conclusions because we give too much weight to the information that’s right in front of us, while failing to consider the information that’s just offstage. He called this tendency “What you see is all there is” to see.
For the sake of this visual metaphor, let’s refer to this tendency as a “spotlight” effect. Think of the way a spotlight in a theater directs our attention; what’s inside the spotlight is crisply illuminated. A spotlight only lights a spot. Everything outside it is obscured. So, in most situations, we don’t immediately think to ask a lot of obvious questions. When we start shifting the spotlight from side to side maybe even offstage a bit, the situation starts to look a lot different. We couldn’t possibly hope to make a good decision without doing this spotlight-shifting. Yet it is very easy to develop an opinion without doing it.
And this, in essence, is the core difficulty of decision-making. What’s in the spotlight will rarely be everything we need to make a good decision, but we won’t always remember to shift the spotlight. Sometimes, in fact, we’ll forget there’s a spotlight at all — we dwell so long in the tiny circle of light that we forget there’s a broader landscape beyond or around it. How can you broaden your decision-making skills given this “spotlight effect”? By asking more questions before going into telling, opinionating, or avoidance mode. It’s that easy, but this is one of the simplest decision making tips for managers that is often overlooked.
Questions to Help us Move the Spotlight and Make Better Decisions
Questions help us to understand the larger context and prevent us from moving forward based on gut bias and intuition alone. For example, when dealing with talent issues, some examples of questions include:
- What do you think are the implications of making this decision in the short term?
- How much of this issue is about the person versus how they are being managed?
- What do people appreciate about this person? How do they support the team?
- Is there a solution that we haven’t considered that would better serve the team or the organization?
- Is there a role that they would be better suited for?
- Have there been stresses and strains on this person that are showing up in their performance lately?
- Can you describe the conversations you’ve had with them over the past 60 days?
- What am I holding onto in my vision for this person when I just don’t have the bandwidth to do parts of their job?
Operating as if our immediate conclusions or desires or vision are true and accurate without asking enough questions keeps us from understanding the broader set of potential issues, and keeps us focused on the pinpointed spotlight versus the larger stage of issues to consider.
Recognizing both the larger and related issues in any situation contributes to self-confidence, stronger followership, and being regarded as someone with strong decision-acumen. Keeping your spotlight on a swivel to examine issues located “just offstage” will help you to make better decisions for yourself, your team, and for the business.