Careers advice

Core leadership skills: how to improve your decision making

There’s a knack to being decisive.

Decision making is one of the facets of leadership that new managers can find most daunting. In more junior positions, you might have been used to making relatively minor contributions to the team’s strategic direction, while mostly following instructions from those higher up.

Now, however, you’re in the driver’s seat, and while this is awesome in so many ways, you might find yourself wondering how to have faith in the decisions you suddenly have to make. 

But fear not, below, we’ll dig into this important leadership skill, so you can make calls with confidence.

1. Consult a career mentor

While you might be the team leader, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with seeking a second opinion from someone who’s been doing this longer than you have. A career mentor, ideally someone with substantial management experience, can help you understand the options in front of you, and how to weigh them up, rather than just giving you an answer. In the long run, this will make you a better decision maker, and a more rounded leader. 

Of course, if this career mentor is someone from outside your organisation, you might need to be a little careful with how much information you’re sharing regarding the internal workings of the company. But, generally speaking, you can still present them with a scenario that’s sufficiently vague to avoid any oversharing, while still giving them enough detail so that they can help you.

2. Learn from your past experiences

This is why retros matter. At the end of a project, when everything is signed off, you need to think back about the steps you took, the decisions you made, and the results you saw.

If things went well, great, think about what you’ll repeat next time If the plan didn’t proceed as you’d hoped, what will you rectify in the future? Making a poor decision once is forgivable, and is how we learn. Making that same mistake again in the future is less understandable, and will be hard to explain to your higher-ups.

3. Gather the necessary information

Good decision making relies on having all the relevant facts at hand – without this, you’re essentially going in blind. Bringing this information together can involve a variety of steps including:

  • Data analysis: if you’re making a decision on collateral for a new advertising campaign, for example, you might want to refer to your audience data to assess what media, messaging and imagery is likely to achieve the best cut through.
  • Sampling: if you don’t have this data already, you might need to go out there and get it. Digital consumer surveys are a popular way for contemporary businesses to gather information about their customers so that they can provide them with a more tailored and valuable service.
  • Meetings: it might be that you need to bring together some of the brains from within the company to conduct a brainstorming session. Even if it’s ultimately your call on the final decision, this way you get to hear the thoughts and insights of those with a variety of skills, and potentially from a variety of different departments. 

4. Keep your objectives front of mind

Another key to good decision making is making sure that you never lose sight of what you’re trying to achieve. 

When you’re being asked to make big calls, particularly if they’re complex decisions with lots of moving parts, it can be easy to get lost in the minutiae and take your eyes off the main objective. There are a few little tips and tricks you can use to help you do this:

  • Whiteboards/digital whiteboards: if you’re running a brainstorming meeting, it can be helpful to write up the main objective in a central place that everyone can see at all times. 
  • Interrogate yourself: at every twist and turn of the decision making process, keep yourself honest by asking whether the line of thinking you’re currently on brings you back to the central goal. 
  • Allocate time: as a leader, chances are the decision you’re currently making isn’t the only thing on your plate. One way to ensure that you’re staying on track is by allocating yourself specific time to the decision making process, meaning that your other tasks aren’t neglected, while also giving you a healthy dose of pressure to move things along.

Keeping your objetive front of mind is key to good decision making.

5. Maintain a user focus

This relates to the point above, as the ultimate experience your user, stakeholder or customer has as a result of the decision you made should be a core consideration.

For example, if you’re making a decision that impacts the messaging in a marketing campaign, your user personas, and the way they prefer to be communicated with, is highly relevant to the conclusion you come to. Similarly, if you’re choosing a workflow tool for your team, to help them manage their ongoing projects, you need to consider which would fit seamlessly with your other tools, and integrate most easily into your team.

6. Weigh the pros and cons

Today’s workplaces are a hive of tech and digital tools, but sometimes there’s nothing quite as effective as a simple pros and cons list. We’re not saying that this should be the sole basis of your decision making, but jotting down the different arguments for and against can be an effective way of starting the process. 

Seeing all of this information in front of you is very different from turning things over in your mind. The very act of putting pen to paper can lead to you thinking of new factors you need to consider – making for an overall better decision.

7. Be agile and flexible

It’s perfectly natural to have a preformed idea about the option you think will be best as you originally enter into the decision making process. However, a good decision maker is one that can look at the facts objectively, and is prepared to change tack if the evidence supports doing so. However, you also need to be aware that there may be influential people within your organisation who are trying to persuade you one way or the other because they have their own prejudices about the decision you’re trying to make. By all means, listen to these people, but make sure the final decision you make is one you’re happy with.

5. Measure the results

You can’t expect to get better at decision making in the long term if you don’t learn from what you’ve done before. This means it’s crucial that you both measure the activity that results from the decision you’ve made, and then take time to review these metrics at the end of the project. 

By doing this, you have the opportunity to pick up on what went well, and what could be improved, allowing you to tweak the decision making process next time around to attain more favourable results.