You make decisions all the time, from the trivial ones, like what to eat and what route to take to work, to more serious ones, like where to buy home or whether to accept that promotion. For most decisions, the choice is easy. You have the experience and knowledge necessary to make a quick decision.
When it comes to leadership, says Art Markman, author of Bring Your Brain to Work: Using Cognitive Science to Get a Job, Do it Well, and Advance Your Career, you’re often called on to make decisions that fall outside your expertise and even comfort level.
He says in the book “These situations often go beyond what you’ve experienced directly. Envisioning the consequences can be hard—in part because of a lack of experience, in part because of the complexity of the environment itself, and in part because of uncertainty about outcomes. Furthermore, such large-scale projects will play out over a long time, so it will be difficult to track progress or to figure out which elements of the situation account for the success or failure of the venture.”
So how can you approach big leadership decisions, and help to ensure you make the right ones? Markman offers this advice:
Prepare before you take the job
Markman encourages you to find out what decisions you will need to make, especially large, critical ones, so you can learn the skills and gain the knowledge in order to do so. For example, you could shadow other leaders first or take classes or seminars to improve your abilities.
Don’t treat leadership decisions like all the other decisions in your life
If you always make decisions on a whim without weighing the pros and cons and considering the consequences, you will need to change your approach and use the tools, expertise of others and data at your disposal to ensure you are choosing the best option for the organization. If you are typically very methodical and slow in your decision-making, there will be times when you will need to move faster. Be able to adapt to the needs and circumstances of the business.
Become more comfortable with uncertainty
You can come up with probabilities and even use them to help you predict expected outcomes and chart a path to execute a decision. However, as in all things in life, nothing is ever certain. Be prepared to make decision with little, to no information.
However, as you work through a decision, and see indicators that your choice isn’t going well, don’t keep doing the same thing. Course correct and keep going. Most important, make sure you walk away with some lessons from your decision. Memorialize what worked and what didn’t so your future decisions will be stronger.
In Bring Your Brain to Work, professor, author, and popular radio host Art Markman focuses on three essential elements of a successful career (getting a job, excelling at work, and finding your next position) and expertly illustrates how cognitive science, especially psychology, sheds fascinating and useful light on each of these elements. Learn more.