Being a leader means having to make hard decisions at many stages, but this is where the real value lies. Many times the decision is made hard due to the fact that there is no right answer, or at least not one that can be determined before a decision is needed so the company can move forward. Progress only happens when decisions are made and actions are taken.
Making decisions without all the data we’d like to have can be challenging for us scientists and engineers. We began our careers in an academic setting where the goal was to produce new knowledge, and in this environment, it’s more important to be right than to be fast. Working at a company is a different case altogether. The cliché ‘time is money’ applies, and decisions often need to be made without knowing all of the details. Demonstrating that you can make good decisions without all the data will show your leadership qualities, and will open new doors to both new opportunities and more money. (See my post on the three types of jobs.)
Struggling with hard decisions is normal. But if you find yourself frequently putting off a decision, hoping that tomorrow a piece of data will show up and make your decision for you, you are seriously hampering your potential. I suggest you use this trick to help you move forward:
Make a decision, and then work to make it the right decision.
I have found this technique to be very helpful. It reminds us that we actually have a lot of power to make our decisions work out, by the actions we take after the decision is made. We are not left to simply roll the dice and hope things turn out the way we planned, but can align all of our efforts towards making our decision the right decision. We can begin by leading our team to act in ways that directly support our decision. Once we’ve made our choice, the path forward generally becomes much more clear. We can also begin crafting our messages to our customers, management, and other partners to bring them along in support.
Our ability to predict the future is not as good as we’d like to think, so waiting to make a decision, hoping that soon new data will appear and make the decision easy, is just fooling ourselves. It is far better to just make a decision, and then immediately start taking action to support that choice. As long as you’ve done your homework and identified any truly bad choice, the chances of picking ‘the wrong choice’ and ending up with a catastrophe are much less than you think. Use this approach, and make your decision the right one.