As leaders (and people) we are sometimes faced with difficult choices. Should I spend money on something I want or save it? Should I hire Jim or Sarah? Should the firm move ahead with the acquisition or not?
Decisions like these seem like occasions for analysis, sleepless nights, and agonizing over pros and cons. But does all this effort really result in a “right” or “better” decision?
A friend recently shared a Ted Talk that brings a fresh perspective to making hard choices. The speaker proposes that hard choices are difficult because we approach the process with the false assumption that there is a best option – and often the belief that we are too stupid to figure out which it is! But what if there really is no “best” option?
Often, we are faced with choices where one option is better in some ways and the others in different ways, but none is clearly better overall. This is particularly true when the decisions involve values trade-offs. And, unfortunately, it is often impossible to know how a decision will turn out unless you can transport yourself into the future.
What if instead of assuming there is a right decision (or that it is knowable), you ask yourself which option you can “get behind” based on your values and experience? In other words, what if you make a choice and create your own reasons for the choice (rather than assuming there is an objectively and logically right answer that you can discern)?
With this mindset, hard choices become an opportunity to make yourself into the person you want to be. The challenge then becomes to make a choice and do all you can to make the choice a success.
I’ve been experimenting with this approach and it has proven to be helpful. In a recent coaching session, a client was trying to make a hard decision regarding the future of a team member. She was considering three alternative actions and all three had advantages and disadvantages.
The typical approach would be to attempt to identify criteria for making the decision and weigh the options against the criteria, but this wasn’t helping. Instead, I asked the question, “which of the options would you feel best about putting your efforts behind to make it a success?”. After a moment of reflection, the client realized that the driving value in the decision was what was best for the firm, not the individual in question. Almost immediately the client was able to make a decision.
It occurs to me that deciding what you are for and putting yourself behind the option you choose is a definition of leadership. Watch the Ted Talk and experiment for yourself. And let me know – how did it go for you?