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Leadership & Decision Making

By Dr. Alan Zimmerman

The other day my UK associate e-mailed me the words to a poem she saw posted in the London Underground. It read:

"I wanna be a leader.
I wanna be a leader.
Can I be a leader?
Can I? I can?
Yippee. I'm a leader!
OK, what do I do now?"
Good question. What do you do now? How do you become decisive and take the lead? I recommend the following process:
  1. Accept the fact that you might blow it when you make a decision.
    After all, every decision is a risk ... which means you might make the wrong decision once in a while. So cut yourself some slack.

    For example, when one of your friends makes a mistake, you probably say something like, "Yeah, it happens. It'll be okay." You need to tell yourself the same thing when you make a mistake.

    Then squeeze the lessons out of your mistake. See what you can learn from it, and then refrain from making the same mistake again.

    If, on the other hand, you are determined never to fail, you're going to have a hard time making decisions. You'll be so anxious about the future outcomes of your decisions that it will cloud your ability to make good decisions today.

  2. Remember you can change your mind.
    In fact, the only people who never change their minds are either stubborn or stupid. a willingness to change your mind ... when new information becomes available ... or when circumstances change ... can be a sign of maturity.

    So you need to remind yourself that you can change your mind. Most decisions are not only adjustable but revocable. And this one insight can take a lot of the anxiety out of your decision making.

  3. Don't get hung up on fact finding.
    In business, there are very few times you will ever have enough information to make the perfect decision. The same goes for your personal life. Nevertheless, you still need to dig for as many facts as you can within a reasonable time frame.

    But even then you may not be able to trust those "facts." The "facts" you gather may be influenced by people's biases and "the way they've always done things." So look for solid evidence that goes beyond people's anecdotes.

    Just remember, you'll never have all the facts. That's an impossible task. But decisions must be made anyway.

  4. Respect your hunches.
    Your hunches are not random. They come about when your brain accesses the vast storehouse of knowledge and the lifetime of experiences stored in your subconscious mind. So, more often than not, your hunches are worth considering.

    Richard Contino, attorney and author of "Trust Your Gut! Practical Ways To Develop And Use Your Intuition For Business Success," even says you should give your intuition a workout. He says, "The more you practice, the easier it will be to connect with your intuitive source on demand ... anytime you have a question about something or someone."

  5. Check your values.
    Before you make a decision, ask yourself, "Does this decision reflect what I know to be right? If more people made this decision, would the world be better or worse?" Your answers will not only help you reach a fast decision but also a "right" decision.

    And is that important? Absolutely. After years of research, James Kouzes and Barry Posner concluded in their book, "The Leadership Challenge," that people follow leaders of integrity.

    Jim, a senior executive at a leading advertising agency, knew that. Jim had a brainstorm while preparing a major TV ad campaign for a client who was introducing lightweight knapsacks. Jim pictured the knapsack on a mountain peak, an eagle suddenly swooping down, grasping it and carrying it away.

    The client loved the idea. So Jim chose a picturesque setting and sent his staff to the site for the shoot.

    A few days later, he got the videotape -- a glorious sequence with the bird soaring in, grabbing the knapsack and flying away. The client was thrilled.

    As Jim was scheduling the ad on national television, two of his staff members slipped into his office. It seems that on location, when the bird swooped down he couldn't lift the "lightweight" knapsack. The crew's solution was to tie a thin wire to the knapsack, which they jerked up when the eagle grabbed it.

    Jim told his client about the problem -- and solution. He didn't object. On film the wire was erased, leaving a visually flawless commercial that only a few would know was "false and fixed."

    But Jim faced a tough personal decision. Could he live with himself if he let the ad be shown on TV? He decided he couldn't. So he pulled the ad, called his client, and offered to re-shoot the sequence at no extra cost. The client was so disappointed that he backed out.

    Jim knew his decision jeopardized a lot of money and the business of a big client. But for him, that wasn't the point. He had to stick to his values if his long-term credibility and leadership were to mean anything.

  6. Ask around.
    Before you make a decision, it's a good idea to ask your associates, coworkers, boss, friends and family members what they think of a particular course of action. As long as you can formulate an independent judgment and take responsibility for it, you can only be helped by knowing the opinions of others. Just be careful that you don't telegraph your own opinion while soliciting theirs.

    When there's a lot on the line, when your decision has some potentially significant outcomes, make sure you also ask the experts. Get the input of your attorney, accountant or other professional advisors. And yes, it will take a little longer and cost more, but you'll minimize the risk of a bad decision.

  7. Search for solutions.
    Pull out a pad of paper, and list every possible solution that comes to mind -- no matter how far fetched it might seem. Just let your creative juices flow.

    And then, when your list of possible solutions slows down, go into your critical mode. Evaluate each possible solution to see which one is best.

  8. Make the decision.
    Think of the best and worst possible outcomes of each decision you could make. Ask yourself how much you can afford to put on the line. If you have a lot to gain and very little to lose, shoot for the moon. If you have little to gain and a lot to lose, be conservative. In many cases, this is all you have to do to make a good, quick decision.

    Whatever you do, make the call. Make the decision. Putting off a decision won't make your tough circumstances go away. In fact, the more you stall, the more likely you are to wind up in a stressful situation forced to make a rushed and faulty decision.

As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman has taught more than one million people in 48 states and 22 countries how to keep a positive attitude on and off the job. In his book, "PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success," Dr. Zimmerman outlines the exact steps you must take to get the results you want in any situation. Go to Alan's site for more information.
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