Leadership skills become second nature to many people. But one of the most difficult skills is decision making. There are always numerous factors to consider, impacts to predict, and simply put, it’s hard to please everyone from the highest levels. It’s easy for leaders to procrastinate making decisions or even try to offload the decision on someone else. But an effective decision-making strategy is a very useful leadership tool, so let’s discuss how to make those decisions methodically and objectively.

First, let’s discuss how decisions are made. Some leaders can make all the decisions alone. This can be based on the individual or the dynamics of the group he or she leads. On the other hand, some leaders are not involved in decision making unless they have their “sounding board” group around them. Before entering the decision process, determine how you will make your decision. That said, remember that group decision-making is sometimes very effective because, let’s face it, none of us has all the answers.

The first step in making decisions is to clarify the issue at hand. To do this effectively, you must examine the facts surrounding the decision. This sounds simple, but there is often “hype” or emotion surrounding the facts. Your job as a leader and decision maker is to extrapolate the facts from the garbage around you. Once you have clarified the problem and reduced it to its facts, you need to put it into common terms. These terms can be your own terms for ease of understanding, or in terms that are easily understood by the organization. With a clear problem that is easily communicated, you are ready to move on to the next step.

Brainstorm the topic at hand, either alone or with a group. One-person brainstorming tends to be one-sided, but at least it can create cause and effect for the decision that needs to be made. On the other hand, a group brainstorming session allows for various viewpoints and the elaboration of more issues related to the problem, possible solutions, and possible pros and cons. Once you start the brainstorming process, either alone or with a group, write down your thoughts. Post the ideas page where you can see it and refer to it when the decision-making process is underway. In a group setting, create a dialogue among group members about the decision and be prepared to accept other points of view. After a brainstorming session, the possible decisions will probably become clear.

Make the possible decisions and create a list of advantages and disadvantages for each one. It sounds simple to create what amounts to a “pros and cons” list, but the method is effective at eliminating possibilities. If a potential decision has many downsides and few upsides, it may not be the best decision at the time. If you’re making a decision with a group, make sure everyone in the group is involved in identifying the pros and cons; you can achieve clarity where you thought it did not exist. Even if you end the pros and cons exercise with a few possible decisions, you’ll still be closer than you were at the beginning.

Then take all the “finalists” and determine the consequences. In fact, it is possible that you have identified consequences in your activity of pros and cons. But analyze the decisions more thoroughly. Consider using a timeline. For example, if we make decision “A,” what will the outcome be a week, a month, a year, or five years from now? Some decisions will require speculation based on current knowledge, but some decisions may be very clear at this point. You must take an extremely analytical approach at this point in your decision-making process. One way to do this is to draw conclusions such as “if condition A exists, then situation B will arise,” or “if decision A is made, then actions B, C, and D will result.”

The last step in methodical decision making is making the final decision. After going through this process, your final decision will probably be very clear. But you must be prepared to explain why you are making the decision. And you must be able to back it up with facts. The factual basis for decision-making cannot be underestimated. If there is any emotion in support of the decision, you may need to consider going back to the drawing board.

Decision making is hard, but these five steps will help you get clarity, facts, and a clear path to the decision itself.

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