Unpacking The How Of The Decision-Making Process

The decision had to be made . . . today. After months of planning and deliberating, it was time to make the call. Were we going to implement the new coaching strategy across a dozen locations or not? With everything else going on, I wasn’t sure if it was the right time but I wanted so badly for it to work. There were new staff who needed to be brought up to speed and other initiatives happening at the same time (we had just rolled out our eKidz Values to all volunteers). Should I push our team? Should I just wait?

As leaders, we face decisions all of the time. Some big, some small but there is always a decision to be made.

For me, decision making is similar to packing a suitcase. There are times when the decision is like an overnight trip . . . easy: one outfit, some gym clothes, and a few toiletries. Other times, the decision is like a two-week trip in late fall to another country with my kids . . . overwhelming. Multiple outfits, planning for varying weather conditions, activities for the plane, and having to sit on my suitcase to squeeze everything in (after all, no one wants to pay the extra bag fee).

Both trips require packing. The effort expended in preparation varies drastically. Making decisions can feel the same way. Some are quick and on the spot. Others take days, months, or even years to determine. Have you ever noticed how we present each decision in the exact same manner? We approach our staff, leaders, and volunteers with a fully developed plan, or in this illustration, a fully packed suitcase and say, “Here you go. Enjoy the journey.”

Investing in those we lead is more than communicating decisions and offering direction. To raise up leaders, we have to unpack the thought process behind our decisions. Without explanation, a carefully considered initiative may seem flippant, rash, inefficient, or even uncaring. Sometimes unpacking decisions and explaining your rationale is as painful as the decision making process itself. It leaves you vulnerable to criticism and can lead to tension-filled conversations. Here are two ways that can help make the “unpacking” easier.

1) Invite those you lead to walk through the decision making process with you.

It’s impossible to do this for every volunteer or staff member you lead. However, even if it’s only a few, the opportunity to create an initiative or solve a problem together is a great opportunity for both parties. Allowing others to walk through the decision making process with you builds relational equity and trust. Those that navigate the progression alongside you get to see first-hand how you move forward inch by inch.

2) Unpack the decision after it has been made.

Retracing your steps on the back end is easier and less time consuming. It can be effective in bringing volunteers up to speed, but it’s important to be as thorough as possible so that key details are not forgotten or left out. Before explaining your decision to others, consider answering these five questions first:

  • What factors had the greatest impact on the decision?
  • What unexpected factors influenced the decision?
  • What made this particular decision easy/difficult?
  • To whom did you seek guidance and insight from before arriving at the decision?
  • What assumptions did you have to make in determining the decision?

The process of decision-making is critical to leadership but is most often refined through trial and error. Taking the time to guide others through effective decision-making will improve your rapport with those you lead and allow you to lead by example.

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