Pursue What Matters
Episode 166: Make Better Decisions
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Do you struggle making decisions? Large or small? It doesn’t matter. Join me as we talk about three reasons decision making is really challenging, and what you can do about it
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:14
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So I’ve got a question for you today. How is your decision making? Do you think you’re a pretty good decision maker? Or do you dread making decisions? Do decisions send you over the edge, so maybe you dread making decisions, maybe you have a lot of confidence in it. So maybe you’re one of these ones that others look to when a tough decision needs to be made. So one of the things that I have learned, in my time working with leaders and leadership teams and organizations is that there are a lot of issues relative to decision making. Getting decision making, right is really hard to do. And, you know, that’s been my experience as a leadership coach. But as a business owner, myself, I can tell you, Oh, decisions are hard, they can be really painful. And as I have, you know, considered my own experience, and then the experiences of others that I have worked with, one of the things that I have recognized for myself as a business leader, is that it can often feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. And ultimately, right, so I’m a sole owner of my business, I have an incredibly great team.
Dr. Melissa Smith 1:56
But at the end of the day, some of these big decisions about the business are mine alone to make, right? Like it’s that those aren’t decisions that I can outsource to other people. And it can feel burdensome at times. And I know for myself, that has felt burdensome, it’s, you know, I tend to have some good confidence and competence in my skills. But when it comes to some of these big decisions, I gotta tell you, they can feel really painful. And so, you know, I come to you not only as a leadership coach and psychologist today, but also, as a business owner in the trenches. Getting decision making, right is hard to do. And so we’re gonna be talking about, you know, helping how we can help you understand it. So we’re going to talk about it today and over the next couple of weeks to really help you to have more confidence and competence in your decision making, whether those decisions are at home or at work, right, the the things we’ll talk about will be equally helpful in both settings. And of course, every week with the podcast. My goal is to help you pursue what matters, by strengthening your confidence to lead. I do that in one of three ways. So I want to help you lead with clarity. So you have a sense of purpose, you know, what matters, and why you know where you’re heading. We also want to help you with that with leading with curiosity. This is all about self awareness and self reflection so that you can lead yourself more effectively. Because of course, the first most important person that you’re leading is yourself. And then the third area is helping you to lead and build a community. So working with your teams, working with colleagues, with clients, with customers. And so today primarily, as we think about decision making, we’re really focusing on both clarity and curiosity. So when it comes to decision making you you need to have some guardrails, you need to have some principles that really help you to frame your decision making process. And then curiosity, we really want to help you develop more self awareness about what kicks up for you, when you come up against a big decision. Because I guarantee you things are kicking up what around big decisions because they’re vulnerable, right? And so having self awareness really helps us to understand what’s kicking up for us, right, there’s still going to be vulnerability. But if you can walk into decisions with some awareness of where you might get tripped up, where your vulnerabilities are, where your strengths are, it will really help you to make better decisions, ultimately. And so the question that we first want to look at here is, you know, why is decision making so challenging, so maybe it’s just challenging for me? I don’t think that’s true. I’ve had enough experience with folks to tell me that this can be really challenging in so many areas of life.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:57
So let’s take a crack at answering this question, and so today, I have three answers to this question. So again, the question is, why is decision making so challenging? And so the first answer that I have to this question is that we lose sight of our purpose. Okay, so this speaks right to helping you lead with clarity. So I have said this for a long time, that one of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to know what matters and why it matters. If you don’t know those two things, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for you to lead a team effectively. And, and so knowing what matters and why it matters is hugely important when it comes to decision making. So you need to understand what factors make a difference? What factors do you even need to be paying attention to? And if you don’t have a clear sense of purpose, and mission, right, so purpose is why mission is what, then it’s really hard for you to know the factors that are going to make a difference, it’s really hard for you to know what you need to pay attention to, because maybe all things are equal in that situation. And so we want to pay attention to the to what factors make a difference, what you need to pay attention to? And how can you anticipate the impact of decisions down the road? So when you have a clear sense of purpose, or vision, so where are we going, why does it matter? Then you can write, you can forecast you different decisions, right? And take a look at, okay, what what does this set us up for? Or how might this decision potentially undermine us? So I recently made a very big decision for our organization. And it was a decision that I, you know, in the weeds, making this decision was probably a three month time period, I’m still, you know, in the process of that decision unfolding. But I gotta tell you, like, it was painful. And every time I felt like, I got stuck, every time I felt overwhelmed, every time I was like, no, like, I just want to, like, take my ball and go home. Because the decision just felt overwhelming. I came back to purpose, right? Because it’s easy to get to lose sight of purpose, especially with stressors and challenges and lots of factors that you need to pay attention to. And so with this recent decision that I made, every time I got overwhelmed, I came back to what is our purpose, right? And clearly, what is the purpose of our organization, but also what is my purpose as a leader, relative to the organization. And so recognizing that we have a very strong vision and mission, of why we exist and how we help others. And as every time I came back to that sense of purpose, it calms me. And it helped me to take the next step, because I could clearly see right, so I had a couple of, I had a couple of alternatives on my decision path, right? And one decision would kind of keep us steady, where we’re at, which is like not a problem, good, good, solid work, not a problem for an organization.
Unknown Speaker 8:30
But the other alternative would kind of take us to that next level, where we would have more access to helping people more visibility, more growth, right. So lots of factors there. And you know, there wasn’t a right or wrong decision necessarily. I really don’t think that that’s the case. I think, with either decision, we could have been successful, and the organization could have been in really good hands for the future. But this is where purpose was so important. Because when I looked at purpose and looked at, Are we fulfilling our mission? Are we are we actually moving towards vision. When I got clear on that, it helped me to make the decision. And I chose the decision around growth and greater impact, even though it’s a riskier choice. But going back to purpose really helps to clarify things. It doesn’t necessarily make the road any easier, but it helps you to keep your eye on the target, right your eye on vision and purpose. And so, you know, with my recent decision, that is what helps me every time I got overwhelmed or stress, coming back to purpose settled me down and helps me to really pay attention to what matters and why. So I was really grateful for that lesson, and hopefully, it can be a lesson that can be helpful for others.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:58
So now let’s look at our second answer. So remember, our question is why is decision making so challenging? The first answer that I have for you is that we lose sight of our purpose. And that makes decision making much more difficult. I have a second answer for you as well. And that is that we fail to balance both perspective and focus. Okay. And so another essential role of a leader is that you must balance both perspective and focus. So what do I mean by perspective and focus? So when I think about perspective, I think about that high level, strategic focus. So think about vision, think about mission. Think about purpose. So perspective, it are these big questions, these high level questions of where are we going? And why does it matter? Right? Does that sound familiar? It should, because we talked about that relative to purpose. And so perspective, really points to purpose. So we got those two piece there together. And it’s that high level strategic focus, it also is asking, so in addition to asking, Where are we going, and why does it matter? We’re also asking, how are we progressing on vision and mission? Right? Like, are we making progress? And so that’s perspective. So we need to balance perspective, in one hand, with focus on the other.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:21
So what do I mean by focus? By focus? I mean, the daily details of the work. So how are our processes? How are frameworks? How is our psychological safety? How is our communication? How do we do in providing both autonomy and support to our team members? So this is really the daily details of the work? How do we work together? How efficient and effective are our processes? Where do we get stuck? Where are we thriving? Where are we merely surviving. And so again, perspective is that high level strategic vote, strategic view, and focus are the daily details of the work. And a leader absolutely must balance both of these, both of these views, it’s so incredibly important. And where I see leaders struggle is they have a great strength in one area, but not the other. So if we think about a leader that’s really good at focus at the Daily details of the work, they’ll be really helpful with their team, but they also might fall into the traps of micromanaging and getting in the weeds too often. And you know, they’re down there down looking at the details of the work, and they don’t recognize that they’re heading towards a cliff, because they’re not necessarily planning for the future. They’re, they’re lacking that big picture view. And so they can run into troubles without knowing it. Right. So whether that’s cashflow issues, other financial issues, you know, or an erosion of a market, there are lots of ways that, that they can miss signs in not only in the industry, but in the marketplace, and also within the organization if they’re not careful. And likewise, if you have so a lot of leaders are very good with a vision right there, the big ideas, people, and that’s great, that can be one of their big strengths. And it’s it’s something that’s compelling, right, it’s something that inspires a team and you and strengthens culture. But they also need to have a certain amount of focus on the daily details of the work because otherwise, they they become out of touch with the challenges of the work, right.
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:43
So they’re up here on this high plane, saying, We’ve got to do this. And we got to do that. And we got to do that. And they might be pretty insensitive to work that is going to take with the daily details of the work or how, you know how logistically, they can’t happen on the timeline that they want. And so they need to have a healthy respect for the daily details of the work. And I don’t think these visionary leaders need to be in all the details of the work, but they need to have a really strong C level or team member high level who is and who can really who they’ll be willing to listen to. Because otherwise, you you know, if you just have this focus on perspective, you lose touch with your team culture starts to erode, there becomes a disconnect between leadership and the team. And so maintaining a balanced view on both perspective and focus helps you to see things more clearly. Right, so we’re seeing afar and we’re seeing up close. So it helps you to see your organization more clearly your industry, your marketplace, your clients and customers, your stakeholders and your team.
Dr. Melissa Smith 15:00
And so you know, when we fail to balance both perspective and focus, it really undermines our decision making capacity because we’re not paying attention to the things that matter, right? We’re not paying attention to purpose, we’re not paying attention to the reality of, of our decisions on the daily work, and how that will play out in our different circles, right, our organization, our team, our industry, and so we really want to pay attention to that. So to the question, why is decision making so challenging? Our first answer is because we lose sight of purpose? Our second answer is because we fail to balance both perspective and focus. And then I have a third answer for you. And that is, we ask the wrong questions. Okay, so what do I mean by that? So most of the time, when it comes to decisions, right, we ask, is this a good decision? Or is this a bad decision? Or was that decision right or wrong? And I’m telling you, that is, those are the wrong questions to ask. Because asking these questions, too narrowly focuses us on outcomes. And while outcome is really important, there are three big problems with a narrow focus on outcome.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:22
Okay. So the first problem is, we can’t always know the outcome of a decision. Over the long haul, right? Factors unfold over time, there can be a ripple effect. And sometimes there is a domino effect. And so when we focus too much on outcome, you know, we, we can’t, we can’t always anticipate the impact of our decisions. And so we need to be careful about that. Because just because there’s an unanticipated, say negative outcome doesn’t necessarily mean that that was a bad decision, it means you needed to respond to the market, that sort of thing.
Dr. Melissa Smith 17:01
And so the second problem with a narrow focus on outcome is that we can make a very wise decision, and still factors outside of our control can absolutely torpedo that decision, I present to you case exhibit a global pandemic, right. I mean, there were lots of us that were making very wise decisions for our businesses for our team. But those decisions, were still torpedoed by the global pandemic. And so focusing on was that a good decision or a bad decision and having that narrow focus on outcome? It really it, it shifts our view, two factors that we don’t have much control over. And I’d rather you shift your view towards the process of making the decision, because I think that’s the real opportunity to assess the strength of the decision, and to really make the biggest impact for making better decisions.
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:03
So now, I want to talk about the third problem with a narrow focus on outcomes when it comes to decision. And so that is that focusing too much on outcome can result in self doubt, lower confidence and heightened anxiety about decision making. Because there’s a lot of pressure on you to get the decision. Right. And that just that’s a breeding ground for self doubt, and anxiety relative to to decision making, which incidentally, makes it harder to make wise decisions as a result, right? Like when we feel that pressure and that anxiety to get a decision, right? It makes it less likely that we’re going to get that decision, right. And so we don’t want to focus too much on outcome. So we don’t want to ask those questions of is this a good decision or a bad decision? Or was the decision right or wrong? Instead, we want to ask different questions. Okay. So we want to ask how good is my decision making process? That’s the key right there? Do I have a decision making process go? So maybe you hear heard me say, decision making process and you’re like, Oh, what, what is that? I don’t know what that is. And then third, do I use a decision making process consistently?
Dr. Melissa Smith 19:24
Okay, and so over the next few podcasts, I’m really going to be making the case for using a decision making process. This is a game changer when it comes to confidence in your decision making ability and in outcome, right in making better decisions. And so these three questions that I am advocating for you to ask, really help you focus on the process of decision making. So it’s not the outcome doesn’t matter. We of course want to pay attention to the outcomes of our decisions, but when we narrow focus on that outcome. Again, our eyes are focused on many factors that we don’t have much impact over. And so we really and right like to the extent that we do, obviously, we want to learn the lessons from that. But I’d rather you really spread your focus. So you can include outcome, but also process, because these questions really help you make better decisions over time, by giving you a process for approaching, analyzing, and ultimately making decisions.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:31
So having a process builds Competence and Confidence relative to decision making. So how does it do that? So first of all, you come to know that you are not reactively acting, right, so there’s no impulsive reaction, which is a very common response to anxiety. You also know that you’re applying a consistent process that can be tested and vetted. So these are, these are time tested processes that can be really helpful. And you know, there’s not one process there are, you know, lots of suggestions out there, but they carry common themes. And so I’ll be sharing one with you that I really, like I’ve kind of brought it together based on some of the research that I have reviewed. But also having a process helps you manage uncertainty, and risk. So one of the things that makes decisions challenging, is that there’s always uncertainty, there’s always risk, you can’t tell the future, you can’t know the end from the beginning. And so you’ve got to be able to manage uncertainty at risk. And if you find that, that you absolutely dread making decisions, you even avoid making decisions, probably you have a very low tolerance for risk. And there could be some good work for you around some Distress tolerance, because we need to take smart risks all the time. And for sure, in business, like you won’t last long if you can’t tolerate uncertainty and risk. But the process helps you to manage that uncertainty and risk more effectively. And so ultimately, right asking these questions, and having a process helps to lower your anxiety so that you can make better decisions, we make better decisions when we can be calm, cool, and collected.
Dr. Melissa Smith 22:22
Okay, so today I shared with you. First we ask the question, why is decision making so challenging? And we have three answers. So first, we lose sight of our purpose. Second, we fail to balance both perspective and focus. And third, we ask the wrong questions. And so I want to leave you with three solutions. So I want you to make better decisions with these three solutions. And they’re really based on the questions that the question that we asked and the answers that I gave you. So the first solution is stay focused on purpose, every single day. So regardless of whether you feel you made a good decision, or a poor decision, this is so true, you will determine whether that decision is good or bad, and how you carry yourself through the process. There are no right or wrong decisions ultimately in life. Very few anyway. And and and really what matters is do we have a good process for thinking through decisions? And then what do we do once a decision is made? Do we undermine ourselves and the decision because of anxiety or fear? Or second guessing? Or do you make that decision, a good decision by moving forward with confidence? I know I have certainly had situations like that where I’m like, I’m not so sure about this decision. But I am, I’m going to follow it through and I’m going to see it through. And ultimately, as I look back at those situations, they weren’t good decisions, whether they were or not in the first place. They became good decisions. And it was more about how I responded, and how I worked to make it a good decision how your teams work together to make it a good decision. And think about that when you choose projects. Right? You can make a decision to say we’re going to move forward on this project and not that project. And then if you have a team, it’s like, they don’t have buy in on the project, they undermine or they torpedo it, probably that project isn’t going to be successful. And it’s not because the project couldn’t be successful. But it’s because there’s not buy in and it’s been undermined at every turn. And so in a very real way, you get to decide if a decision is a good one or a bad one. Leading to purpose can help turn a poor decision into a good decision. Right? That’s what I’ve been talking about here by helping you overcome challenges, getting back up after failures and learning as you go and sharing those lessons across the organization. Because even with the best decisions, you’re going to have stumbles you’re going to have failures, you’re gonna have lessons. And so can you learn the lessons, and that can really make even a challenging decision, a pretty good decision down the road.
Dr. Melissa Smith 25:09
So that’s my first solution stay focused on purpose every single day. My second solution is balance the big picture with the daily details, right. So this is where we want that balance on perspective, those high level strategic priorities, with focus, the respect for the daily details of the work, both of these perspectives, both of these views have a lot to teach you. And so we really want you to have a collaborative process where teams work together toward a shared vision, and a common purpose. And so, you know, if you struggle with balancing this, for instance, if you struggle with perspective, one of the daily activities that you could ask yourself is, what do we do? And why does it matter that can really help you connect with that you could review your mission statement and your values every day, you could incorporate your purpose and your values into your team meetings into your agendas. In fact, I would really strongly recommend that you do that. Because then we we embed our values and our mission throughout the organization, and it becomes part of our ecosystem, it becomes part of how we make decisions every day.
Dr. Melissa Smith 26:24
And then for instance, if you’ve if you have a hard time with focus, make sure that you are creating opportunities where you are getting a snapshot into the daily details of the work. So maybe that’s with with a check in with a colleague, maybe that is engaging with team members, maybe that is taking a front row seat, a process as it unfolds, or you sit in on that project teams meeting and really see what they’re working with. So there are lots of daily ways, simple ways that you can embed yourself in to the daily work so that you can have this balance of perspective and focus. So that’s our second solution, balanced the big picture with the daily details.
Dr. Melissa Smith 27:10
And then the third solution that I have is ask better questions. So I want you to focus on process driven questions for making decisions. You need to balance outcome with process. So it’s not that we don’t care about outcome that most of us really need to pay much more attention to process. So if you determine a decision was poor, quote unquote, poor, what are you learning from it? So how are you strengthening your decision making process to ensure that you are addressing these vulnerabilities in your process in the daily work? And so those are the three solutions that I have for you. Again, solution one, stay focused on purpose every day solution to balance the big picture with the daily details, and solution three, ask better questions.
Dr. Melissa Smith 28:00
So head on over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/166-makebetterdecisions. So one more time that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/166-makebetterdecisions I would love to connect with you on Instagram. I’m @dr.melissasmith. I have lots of resources each week relative to the podcast and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. And I would love it if you took a moment to review the podcast. This gives me really valuable feedback and it helps others find the podcast as well. In the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care
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