Hey friends! Welcome to the Three By Five Leadership podcast where we champion intentional leaders who create significant impacts. In this show, we seek to share simple, practical strategies to help you live, to lead, and to learn more intentionally. You can learn more about us and explore all of our resources to help you become a more intentional leader by going to our website at www.3x5leadership.com, or check out the link in the show notes.
I’m JJ Morgan, a member of the 3x5 Leadership team. Thanks for joining us today! In this episode, we are going to discuss decision-making. Do you have an actual process for making decisions? After today’s episode, you’ll have two separate frameworks to enable you to be a better decision-maker. We’ll provide an overview of rational and naturalistic decision-making, describe the key differences between the two, and share frameworks designed to help you implement each. Finally, we’ll talk about the reality of decision fatigue and ways to avoid this, whether in yourself as a leader or for your subordinates. Let’s get to it.
We constantly make decisions – what to eat (or not) for breakfast, what to wear for work, which route to take to work, whether a meeting needs to be virtual or in person (or held at all), how to respond to that question from your employer/customer/spouse/kid – you name it, we constantly make decisions! In fact, our decision-making is so prolific that some researchers estimate we make over 35,000 decisions in a single day. Given that figure, it is evident that some decisions are made subconsciously, while others demand our undivided attention and emotion. So how do we go about ensuring that we are making well-thought and effective decisions?
Before we can dive into decision-making frameworks that can enable us to be more effective decision-makers, it’s important to understand that there are two different broad approaches to decision-making. These two approaches are classified as the “naturalistic” approach, and the “rational” approach. I naturalistic decision-making (sometimes referred to as “Type 1 thinking”), we tend to rely heavily on instinct. This instinct is the product of using our memory to develop scripts and schemas for how we have seen similar situations develop in the past, and the associated outcome. Much like a “predictable” movie follows a script (Villain threatens innocent people, hero saves the day, good triumphs over evil, justice and peace are restored), our minds have an amazing capacity to recognize patterns and develop a script that enables us to make decisions in a rapid fashion. This method clearly has advantages – it is quick, it is based on relevant past experiences, and it reduces the cognitive load that decisions otherwise require. It also has downsides – much like the surprise twist that occurs in well directed movies, things don’t always follow the script we expect. We can be misled by preconceived notions, biases, and faulty assumptions that draw parallels where none should exist.
The other approach to decision making is the rational approach (sometimes referred to as “Type 2 thinking”). Rational decision making is process-oriented, following a process designed to gather information, challenge and confirm assumptions, reduce risk, and build the shared understanding of the team. This is the type of decision-making that makes pro/con lists, weighs multiple options, and considers trade-offs. It’s likely the type of thought process you used in selecting a degree program, a place to live, a career opportunity. This process is thorough, by design. You’re likely thinking “that translates to time consuming,” and you are correct. That is one of the biggest drawbacks to the rational decision-making process. It is both time and resource intensive, and often as leaders, we find ourselves constrained in both of these areas.
Given our understanding of both of these, we can surmise that both have their place –
naturalistic decision-making is well suited to:
--Situations in which we’ve had significant experience
--Time and resource constrained environments
Rational decision-making is well suited to:
--New environments in which we lack experience or exposure
--Decisions where several options present themselves and there is no “clear” choice
--Situations where we have the time and resources to dedicate to further exploration and development of options
You probably already recognize that we aren’t so lucky to have situations that are clear cut – that sometimes we may have a high stakes decision but have no time. So what are we to do? When we find ourselves in these circumstances there are two things to remember – first, as a leader it is your responsibility to make the decision, and second, there are frameworks that you can apply to enable you to fulfill that responsibility.
There are two frameworks that we’ll outline to help us as we make decisions –
Naturalistic Framework (“Gut” decision making):
--Experience: Take in the situation. Who are the stakeholders? What is the context? What time and resourcing is available?
--Recognize: What about this situation has similarities to other situations you’ve been in? Are there “rules” that you recognize? What about this situation differs, and how might that impact your decision?
--Act: Based on your assessment of the Experience and Recognition of similarities, is there a script that you can now implement?
Rational Framework (“Data” decision making):
--ID the Problem or Opportunity: What’s the real issue you are dealing with? Are you sure that’s it? If you can, spend time asking yourself “what else?” to ensure you have correctly identified the problem. On the flip side, what is the opportunity (this merits the side-bar observation that you can unlock amazing creativity in your team and yourself when you re-frame problems as opportunities)?
--Generate alternative solutions: This step is entirely focused on creating options for yourself and your team. What are the different approaches or actions you could take? Is doing nothing an option? When generating multiple solutions, ensure that they are in fact distinguishable and achievable.
--Evaluate alternatives and select a solution: How will you compare each solution against the others? Could you weight different elements of the solution, and then score each solution based on that weighted criteria? This is where you have the opportunity to assess costs, risks, rewards, and impacts to your overall mission / organization. It’s also the step where your biases can really show up, so be aware of that! With that said, this step results in you choosing a specific action – remember, a decision not to act should still be a deliberate decision.
--Implement your solution and evaluate: Now that you’ve chosen a solution, put it into motion! Make sure that you’ve assembled the resources you need, set appropriate controls, and have a valid mechanism for assessing the effect of your solution! This evaluation piece is critical, helping us to manage risk and seize opportunities.
These frameworks are not infallible, but they are helpful as we seek to think critically and creatively in order to make important decisions. In addition to these frameworks, there are a few questions that I have found helpful when making a decision. I’ll share them here:
--When does this decision need to be made?
--What’s the risk associated with this decision or course of action? What can we do about it?
--If I choose this option, what impact does it have on follow-on actions available to us? Does it limit or expand future options?
--Is there an ethical component to this decision?
That last question regarding ethical decisions is critical. As leaders, we have a moral imperative to lead ethically. If we have frameworks for decision making that we can apply to various situations, we also need a framework we can apply specifically to ethically challenging situations. Look to a future podcast episode where we’ll introduce an ethical-decision making framework that we’ve found helpful!
Finally, it’s important to talk about decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is the concept that after making many decisions, your ability to make additional quality decisions over the course of the day deteriorates. In short, we either start to make worse decisions, or we find ourselves unable to make any decision at all. I’m convinced my kids face this every Friday night when it’s time for them to select a movie for family movie night – they are apt to spend 25 minutes down-selecting their options to a handful of candidates, and then continue to cycle through each choice until inevitably they reach a point of frustration or being overwhelmed, resulting in either an argument over who gets to pick, or a surrender to “rock-paper-scissors.” It’s a silly example, but it’s also relatable! How many times have you hit a point in your decision making where you are either too frustrated to think straight, or the only suitable “framework” you have is rock-paper-scissors? You’ve likely been here before, and you will certainly find yourself there again! Remember the research that indicates we make over 35,000 decisions in a single day? The majority of those are sub-conscious, thankfully. However, the conscious ones can be taxing, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Our decision fatigue can often be a result of stress, taxed mental capacity at the moment, or just plain exhaustion. As a result, we find ourselves either overwhelmed, procrastinated, distracted, taking entirely too much time focused on the small details of a decision, and even feeling uncertain and unsatisfied with the decision once its been made. If you are in a role where you are consistently required to make decisions, and those decisions have significant impacts, how do you avoid decision fatigue?
Here are a few simple recommendations:
1. Sleep. Simply giving your body and your brain the opportunity to recover is an essential element in making good decisions. While you don’t have the luxury of sprawling on your office floor and taking a power nap, you do have the ability to prioritize a healthy amount of sleep on a regular and consistent basis.
2. Delegate decisions. We firmly believe that a key part of leadership is developing and empowering others; practically do that by delegating decisions. Are there product features, implementation steps, or some other elements of decisions that you can delegate to others? As a leader, your job is to communicate the “why”, determine the “what”, and delegate the “how”.
3. Use a process. We’ve spent a good portion of this episode unpacking two frameworks that can be applied to making decisions. Put them into practice! Write out the steps on a 3 x 5 card and take that card with you into the next meeting you have – as you come across a decision, map it against one of the frameworks, and put the process into practice!
4. Engage with a “decision partner.” This could be a co-worker, a teammate, a spouse, or even a coach – share with them the decision you are faced with, outline the process you are using to approach and analyze that decision, and then talk through it with them. See what kind of insights and perspective they can provide. Be humble and receptive to feedback – it’s a gift! An amazing benefit to this recommendation is that it often serves to strengthen our sense of connection, thus increasing our mental resiliency and health!
As we close, keep in mind – we all make decisions; some are seemingly small, others are literally life altering. When you find yourself facing a decision, determine whether that decision is best suited for a naturalistic decision-making approach, or a rational decision-making approach. Then, apply the appropriate framework to enable you to make a better decision. Ensure you ask yourself if there is an ethical component to the decision you are making, and if so, determine how you can apply an ethical decision-making framework. To ensure you are in the best condition to make decisions, avoid decision fatigue by sleeping, delegating, using a process, and finding a decision partner. Making decisions requires intentionality – we want to encourage and equip you to be an intentional leader who creates a significant impact!
If you found this helpful, would you make the simple decision to share it with someone else? Send them a link to the episode, and then take a moment to like and subscribe to this podcast on whatever catcher you use to listen to this podcast. We would also certainly appreciate you taking an additional minute to leave us a review – reviews help other leaders like you find us! Remember, you can also find additional great content from our team on our website at www.3x5leadership.com. Finally, if you’re interested in accessing exclusive content and engaging with our team on a deeper level, as well as supporting the work we are doing, then we invite you to join our Patreon community at www.patreon.com/3x5leadership - you ca also find a link to that community in our show notes.
Thanks for joining us, team. Until next time, take care and lead well!