Do you sometimes feel like the indecisive vultures from Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book?
Buzzie: Hey Flaps, what are we gonna do?
Flaps: I don't know, what you wanna do?
Military life involves lots of decision making. And while it may seem that decisiveness increases with higher rank, decisions are more difficult when they affect more people. So I spend a lot of time helping people at all levels when they struggle to decide something.
As an entrepreneur and sole owner of my company, I determined strategic direction with little input from others. Then I delegated operational and tactical decisions to my staff. If I were commanding a squadron or a ship the process would be similar. But as a chaplain, achieving a consensus of other chaplains and senior enlisted people is crucial. This process feels less decisive to me but in the long-term is more efficient for getting work done.
This all demonstrates that:
These three questions can be quantified quickly and will aid you in determining the gravity of the decision you face:
- How important is the decision? Most decisions are not life or death. A decision’s place in the continuum from minor to major can be determined by asking:
- Who and/or how many people are affected by this decision? As the closeness of your relationship and/or the number of people affected increases so do the repercussions.
- What is at stake? When the cost to your relationships and financial, mental, and spiritual wellbeing, or that of your organization, gets bigger so does the gravity of your decision. As the risk to life and property rises, there is a greater need to gather input from others.
- What is the context of the decision? Lengthy deliberations and getting input on choices may be appropriate but:
- How crucial is the time factor? Will you lose the opportunity if the decision is delayed?
- How will you implement it? A military chain of command and a board of directors of a nonprofit are poles apart in making and executing decisions. The latter generally requires significantly more buy-in from stakeholders.
- What are the consequences of a wrong decision? While the results of your decision may seem permanent, rarely is that the case. In reality, what is the cost to set things right?
Not only will answering these questions help you decide how much effort to put into a decision, it will also reveal other people with whom you should consult if necessary. This information enables you to take the next step.
Having assessed the situation, you can conclude whether:
- No decision is necessary.
- You must decide immediately, or
- The amount of time you should use in the event you rejected options 1 and 2.
Like so many things, decisiveness comes with practice. Take every opportunity. If your family needs to decide where to go out for dinner and all are saying they don’t care, seize the opportunity and decide. When you are not the ultimate decision maker, offer a reasoned recommendation to the person who will.
Apply this three-step process:
- Assess the importance.
- Set a deadline.
- Make the decision, if necessary.
It will become second nature. You will also find that most of the decisions you have to make are not so consequential, thereby requiring far less time and anxiety.
Whether in your personal, family, work, or communal life, the time you spend deciding subtracts from the time you spend doing. In the final analysis, the purpose of making a decision is so you can get on with your life. So . . .
What prevents you from being decisive?
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