Powerful Decision Making

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When we live long enough, we realize that the decisions we make one day can alter the course of our lives for the rest of our lives.  Decisions like what field of study we pursue, the jobs we take, the relationships we decide to end….decisions, choices, move us forward or backward.  Sometimes they cause us to remain stuck in life. We are a product of what we decide so how do you ensure you are making the best decisions as a leader?

I've made a lot of major decisions that have lead me to where I am today, both good and bad. I think we are a product of what we decide and so there are many, but I think the one that jumps out to me the most is the decision Joy-Lynn and I made in the fall of 1996 to take a giant leap and move from our home town in Three Hills to help with a brand new church plant in Canmore. We had just been married for 6 months, Joy-Lynn was just pregnant with Carson, our first son, and we felt called to help with a church plant that had 30 or so people in attendance in a town that is considered one of the most expensive places to live in Canada.

I knew I had to find a job and we had to find a reasonable place to live. The only job I could find was a part time job that offered me $8/hour. I knew we couldn’t afford to live on that, especially in Canmore, and even though my brain was telling me we were crazy, we still took the leap of faith. And God showed up! And am I ever glad he did!

In my very first shift at my brand new part time job, I was told that the assistant manager had just quit and that the position was now mine. I never did work a part time shift and I never did work for just $8/hour. And, a year and a half later, I was made the senior pastor of the church in Canmore and the rest, as they say, is history.

Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Sometimes we waver between two decisions and confine our decision making to those two choices. We limit ourselves when we only ask "should I pursue Plan A or Plan B?", when there may be a Plan C that’s better than A or B!  But how do you determine your best options when confronted with a complex decision?

Well, I always look for as many different options as I can find and weigh the pros and cons like everyone else, but I have also learned to ask myself an all important question—and I learned this question from Andy Stanley years ago—“what is the wise thing to do?” I found this question is a lot more effective than asking “what is the right thing to do?” because like everyone else, I can convince myself of just about anything when it comes to right and wrong. In contrast, I almost always know immediately as to whether a decision is wise or not. If I don’t, then I dig deeper by asking “based on my past experiences, is this a wise thing to do?” and “based on my current circumstances or responsibilities is this a wise thing to do?” and “based on my future hopes and dreams is this a wise thing to do?” When I ask those three questions, almost always, I know the answer. The question then becomes, do I have the courage to make the wise decision?

Authors Dan and Chip Heath call the idea of looking for the third alternative the “vanishing options test”.  For example if options A & B vanished, what would you do? The bigger the decision is the more important it is to go looking for answers outside of the obvious. Why? Well, because if the answer was obvious it wouldn't be difficult to decide now would it? So, if I am wrestling with a decision I need to dig deep into the decision by searching for every alternative, whether that’s seeking advise from others or digging for the answer in books or research.

When I find an answer, I like to play the scenarios in my head. I imagine making the decision. How does it play out? What will happen immediately after the decision is made? How will those closest to the decision be affected? Then, how will the decision play out in the next 6 months to a year? How will those impacted by the decision react or respond? Who will it effect and who else will it effect? Then I reverse the scenario. What if I didn’t make the decision? What would happen and who would be effected? It helps me to slow down and think all of the angles through.

Some decisions have two components that are variables: 

  1. the situation
  2. the personality or personalities involved. 

The situation may be a dilemma created by certain personalities and if the personalities were different, the situation might not be so complex.  As the decision maker, sometimes you separate the situation from the personalities involved so your decision is a healthy one for the long haul and not based on the present cast of personalities. 

In my line of work, the vast majority of our decisions are directly linked to the personalities involved so I can’t even think of a scenario in which I made a decision that didn’t involve a set of personalities around it. But, with that being said, I do investigate the situation separately from the personalities by asking “if so and so wasn’t involved, would this scenario be different?” If the answer is yes, then I ask “do I need to remove them from the situation?” And if I do, how will that effect the situation? Would it solve the problem or create new ones? If the answer is no to removing the personality or if I discover that the personality is not the problem, then we can work with that personality in determining the solution to the problem together. 

I try to do is empower the team around me to be able to make the most decisions possible. If I can make the fewest amount of decisions on my own, then I am leading right. If I am having to make all of the decisions then I am micro-managing and have not empowered my team properly.

Are You Giving Yourself Enough Time?

The greatest mistakes I have made in the past are because I have made decisions too quickly. So, I do my best to slow down the process as much as I can without causing more problems. I have found that personality problems need to be made as quick as possible and situational problems need to be thoroughly investigated and thought through slowly. That’s my general observation anyway. With that being said, even when I slow down a decision I still try to put a deadline on it so that me and my decision making team have a goal to focus on.

Do You have the Right People in the Room?

Team decision making often takes on a life of its own to the point that making a simple decision, gets more and more complex.  I think that the smaller the team can be, the better the decisions can be. So, choose the least amount of people you can, but have the right people. Each decision requires a different set of experience and skill sets, so that’s what I look for when it comes to making a team decision. What experience do I have on my team in this area? What skills do I need to make this decision? And I look for a variety of skills, so that I can avoid a team of “yes men or women” or a team that will all agree with one another.

I want the best decision and I know that most times the best decision means we will have to create tense conversations from multiple points of view to see the light at the end of the tunnel. For example, I know my tendency is to be a risk taker and I don’t mind spending money to take those risks, so I usually involve accountant types who are adverse to taking risks on my team so that we can avoid unnecessary risks that could really damage us in the future. We’re in the middle of a huge decision right now as an organization and I love the discussions we are having at the board level. They are tense, but we have a very mature board of business leaders who are very wisely walking us through the decision with an aggressive set of check and balances that I think are very healthy, not just for this decision, but for ones like it coming in our future.

Are You Managing Tension or Solving a Problem?

In ministry, decision making should benefit people in the long run.  But if we’re not careful, we can loose the people factor and end up making decisions based solely on finances.  As a leader in a non-profit organization I need to find the balance between best practices in business without losing the people factor as well. That is always the tension in our world. What I have learned is that there is a big difference between “problems to solve” and “tensions to manage.” If we realize that there is always going to be a tension between the business side of church and the people side of church, then I can relax and manage the tension rather than seeing it as a problem I must solve. I can balance the tension instead of solving the problem.

If I solved the problem I would choose one ditch and surround myself with all of the people in that ditch and ignore the other side and pay the immense consequences of that decision. If I manage it as a tension, then I will choose people from either side of the ditch to sit on the team making decisions and try to avoid the ditches. 

In Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he writes about the Law of Attraction:  “we attract more of what we focus on”.  Decision making is not always about problem solving but often about opportunity solving.

Moving forward as a leader requires laser focus on the future, on what they want to attract to their organization in the future. The clearer you are about your vision and culture and of who you are trying to attract to your organization the better and stronger your organization will be.

But remember, with that clarity comes the opposite effect, you will also strongly repel people who are different than you. I see this as a positive, but I also realize that not every young leader does. I think when we first start out as leaders, we all have this illusion that we will be able to attract and keep everyone. That is just not true. The stronger we are with our focus, the more we will repel the wrong people. That is a good thing. The key is to attract more people than you repel. That may seem harsh, but it is a critical point.   

Does it follow the 10-10-10 Process?

Suzy Welch coined the 10-10-10 process for decision making.  The 10-10-10 process is to ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. What are the consequences of my decision in 10 minutes?
  2. What are the consequences of my decision in 10 months?
  3. What are the consequences of my decision in 10 years?

I think this concept is brilliant, because not every right decision now is the best decision for later and not every long term decision is best for now. You have to find the option that will ultimately be the best in the long term without blowing everything up in the short term.

Does it Align with your Vision?

When it comes down to it, decision making must align with our values as leaders and organizations.  Here at My Victory we endeavour to always “lead with vision”.  Doing so reinforces our culture. This is opposite of leading by reaction, which to me is irresponsible because it is too dependent on our emotions, which are fickle at best. I believe, every decision we make has to be made in light of our vision, to be a church unchurched people love to attend in reaching every available person by every available means at every available time with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If it doesn’t align with that vision, we don’t do it. Simple as that. We have to ask where we are going and what we are going to do to get there — when that is clear — our decisions should be clear as well.

How Will You Communicate it?

One of the flaws of leadership decision making happens when a decision is not clearly communicated. [bctt tweet="A good decision poorly communicated can turn out badly.  " username="kellystickel"]

When making any decision, big or small, we must ask “who will this effect?” And then ask, “who else will this effect?” And then ask, “who else will this effect?” and “who else?” and “who else?” until we run out of names. This is vital. There is a big difference between making a decision and implementing a decision, and communication is vital to the latter. 

Have You Explored All Options?

In a previous podcast we discussed the “6 Thinking Hats” way of conducting meetings. (You can find that post here)  With this concept, leaders implement the process of examining options from different viewpoints.  Problem Solvers would explore options from the perspective of the facts (White Hat thinking) or the perspective of critical thinking in search of flaws and risks (Black Hat thinking). 

I definitely think it is worth the time training teams to lead meeting this way and to make decisions based on the 6 thinking hats. In fact, we took an entire All-Staff day teaching nothing else, but this concept. Why? Because if allows everyone on the team to look at the decision from every point of view, not just their own natural point of view. That empowers each person on the team to confidently speak up and contribute to the decision instead of the tendency to silently disagree. A team is far more powerful when everyone contributes. The natural tendency is to drift back to typical meetings, but as leaders we must fight this drift by making it part of our agendas and just embrace it as a part of our meetings culture.

I heard a quote recently by Andy Andrews who said, 'There are generations yet unborn,whose very lives will be shifted and shaped by the moves you make and the actions you take.’  That’s a powerful and sobering quote.

To me, this quote says that our very decisions won’t just effect the people around us today, but the generations to come as well. That’s huge! We in the church need to take that seriously and the decisions we make because generations following us can be impacted for the Gospel and it’s opinion of the church. And I believe the church is the hope of the world and we are on a mission to reach every available person, at every available time, by every available means with the Gospel of Jesus Christ by creating churches unchurched people love to attend.