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Learn How to Make Decisions Confidently

Knowing how to reach clarity on a decision quickly, especially in critical times, is a differentiating mark of an accomplished leader. It also looks effortless and easy to an observer. Of course, it isn't effortless and easy, but this chapter will help you learn how to make decisions confidently.
This chapter is from the book

Wavering on a decision in critical times can be dangerous! Direct reports sense this state and do not make their decisions in turn, waiting for the decision of the leader. This can lead to a form of paralysis, and the impact on the business can be profound.

Larry Bossidy, Retired Chairman of Honeywell International and Former CEO of Allied Signal1

Knowing how to reach clarity on a decision quickly, especially in critical times, is a differentiating mark of an accomplished leader. It also looks effortless and easy to an observer.

I was privileged to witness master decision makers perform. I sat across from Jack Welch, a former CEO of General Electric, and next to Larry Bossidy, former CEO of Allied Signal, when he was a vice-chairman at General Electric. They made strategic decisions for multimillion- and multi-billion-dollar businesses outwardly effortlessly, based on the information that they just heard and their gut. The impression you get is similar as you watch a great athlete perform. Michael Jordan's moves on the basketball court, for example, look easy, his shots effortless but stunningly effective.

Behind this mastery is a tremendous effort, a discipline, not visible to the naked eye. In the case of Michael Jordan, it's seven days a week at the gym. In the case of Jack Welch and Larry Bossidy, it is the continuous scrutiny of their decisions and continuous improvement of what they've done in the past—as becomes clear from their books.

In contrast, many of us never question how we make decisions. When we stop to look, we rarely find a method. We usually find a big mess that we inherited from our early years. We discover that sometimes we make random choices, or the decisions are made for us by outside circumstances, and we just comply. Sometimes we make decisions by abdicating our power to a set of rules built into some analytical method or by rebelling against what is expected of us. And sometimes, we decide because we just feel like it.

Focusing on an issue this way or "unleashing a laser beam" is analogous to having an insight or a clarity moment—when a problem that you were thinking about becomes clear in an instant.

This book's approach to decision-making combines traditional, rational ways that you usually use in making decisions with innovative mind-focusing techniques that enable you to access more brainpower than you normally do. The intent is to replicate an effect experienced by a person in a clarity moment.

Mind focusing is supported by the rigor and discipline of decision-making best practices utilized by experienced decision makers, such as decision definition and methods of overcoming decision difficulties. This combination enables deep insights and breakthrough ideas about a decision to surface, paving a faster and easier path to a clear decision.

Experienced executives are better at mind focusing and reaching clarity than novice business managers. Making decisions with clarity faster and easier is a skill, and it can be learned. Reaching mastery in decision-making, however, is the same as reaching mastery in any discipline—it's a product of self-training and discipline that takes effort, understanding, and change.

This is a practical book. The intent is to help you reach a higher level of mastery in your decision-making.

This book provides you with both—specific methods to focus your mind on a decision and a step-by-step decision-making process to reach clarity. I encourage you to keep a notebook as you read along, do the exercises, think about your current and past decisions, and contemplate your own processes.

Before we get into the details of how to reach a mastery level in decision-making, let's define "clarity in decision-making."

Clarity in Decision Making—Definitions

Clearness is the ornament of profound thought.

Marquis de Vauvenargues2

Recollect your own clarity moments.

Where are you usually? What are you doing? It is interesting that in most cases, decision makers say that they are in the shower, driving, or doing something has nothing to do with work.

How are you feeling? When asked, decision makers say "Relaxed," "Enjoying the activity I am involved in," "Not thinking," "Happy," or "Content."

How does the solution arrive? When asked, decision makers say "It just pops into my mind," "I just know," "It’s like lightning—things become clear, illuminated," "A lot of thoughts together," or "It’s like a laser beam; unimportant things fall away."

How do you feel when the solution arrives? When asked, decision makers say "Excited," "Exhilarated," "Ready to go execute the plan," "Driven," "Determined," or "Very high."

How do you feel about the solution? When asked, decision makers say "I know that this is the right thing to do," "This is it!", or "It’s so obvious, why haven’t I seen it before? What have I been thinking about?"

One CEO gave me this analogy for how he felt in a clarity moment: "It’s as if you are the captain of a ship lost in a fog. You are trying to see the shore and cannot. Then, lightning strikes and illuminates the shore. And then you know where to go, and you are clear on your path and certain that you will get there."

Conventionally, we define "being clear" as reaching a conclusion that is "evident to the mind," unclouded, and free from anything that dims, obscures, or darkens. We also define it as free from doubt or confusion; certain; sure.

I asked business leaders I worked with to define clarity in decision-making as well as to name characteristics that describe a clear decision. One characteristic stood out from these discussions—the inner knowingness, when you know for certain that this is the path you need to take, there are no "ifs" or "buts," you do not doubt, you do not question, you simply know.

Reaching clarity quickly is a differentiating mark of leaders—the trait that is visible to observers. For example, biographers of President Reagan stress again and again that he was always certain about his choices and was able to quickly reach clarity on decisions.

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