Making Decisions Is Hard

Gerwig 2016-05-02

The day was rainy, cool and dreary. The bright spot was a visit to the Bushnell Theater in Hartford, Connecticut to see Matilda. The theater is located right across the street from the state capital (pictured above). It was a sold out show and the performance was amazing. While our seats weren’t the best, we could see and hear everything clearly (once a fellow patron turned off their annoying phone alarm that went off for 10 minutes during the 2nd act!). I admit that I was reluctant to see Matilda initially, but my wife and daughter were spot-on with encouraging me to join them. I loved it!

The show was a matinee and since we’d gone to the early service at church, we had time for lunch. But where to eat? THAT was the big question. We tossed around a variety of options. Some were expensive. Some were “cheap.” Some had quick service. Some were S-L-O-W. Some were Chinese. Some were Mexican. Some were Italian. And some were American. One member of our lunch party wasn’t eating dairy, another wasn’t eating gluten. Ugh!!!

Have you ever noticed how hard decisions can be? This is especially true as we add filters, constraints or requirements. For example, you’re looking for a place to eat lunch, but it has to serve gluten-free bread and lactose-free milkshakes. And it has to be within 10 miles of your current location and it has to cost less than $10 per person. See how much harder it gets when you start layering in constraints? Did you know that being tired or stressed adds exponentially to the difficulty of making a good decision? It’s one reason that people who have experience the death of a close family member are counseled to avoid making major decisions for several months.

Making decisions is also difficult because rarely is the decision-making process articulated and communicated to key stakeholders. Have you ever made a decision only to have it overturned? Little did you know that you didn’t truly have the authority to make the decision, right? Ugh!!! Ever been part of a group or team that couldn’t agree so no decision was made? Ugh!!! Ever been asked your input believing the decision-maker would take your advice only to have them make a different decision than the one you recommended? Ugh!!!

There are many different models used to help us understand the decision-making process, but one I like classifies decisions into the following four groups:

  1. Executive – the boss makes the decision.
  2. Consultative – the boss makes the decision after receiving input from others.
  3. Consensus – a collaborative process where everyone either agrees or is willing to give 100% support to the group’s decision.
  4. Complete Agreement – everyone agrees (unanimous) on the outcome.

Today, I’d like to speak to the times when you, as the “boss” or “leader”, make either an executive decision or a consultative decision. If you’ve been in this position and made these types of decisions, you know that you can’t always please everyone. In fact, sometimes the decision options are mutually exclusive. For instance, you can‘t go to The Cheesecake Factory AND Pei Wei for lunch. Selecting one prevents you from going to the other. Yes, there are hybrid options. You can go to Pei Wei for your entrée and then to The Cheesecake Factory for dessert. But you get the point. Being the executive decision maker can be hard. You can upset people. Family. Friends. Neighbors. Key stakeholders.

Remember, you won’t win them all. Leadership isn’t a popularity contest. Sometimes you’ll upset people. Some will understand once you explain your rationale, but others will simply never be convinced you made the right decision. My advice in most cases is to just move on.

Real leaders know that making decisions is hard. They know it’s messy. Despite great communication and empathy, some won’t support the decision. They’ll be upset. Some for hours. Others for years. As a leader, making decisions is part of your job description. Prepare, pray, ask for input, make decisions, be empathetic, adjust but don’t expect to please everyone.

Just last week I had two well-intended people give me advice. To follow one meant ignoring the other and vice-versa. Their advised paths of actions were mutually exclusive. And since I respect both of these individuals, I’m choosing to do nothing until the path is clear to me. But in the end, I own it. I own the decision and the outcome. Yes, making decisions is hard, but it’s what leaders do.

We selected Red Robin for lunch. Burgers, soup, salad, french fries, sandwiches, and a wide variety of other options. The service was quick and the food was solid, if not spectacular. But if an executive decision wasn’t made, we would have missed lunch. Fortunately, in this instance, everyone was pleased with the outcome of the decision.

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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