Every leader comes to the moment where the complexities surrounding a significant decision are staggering and overwhelming. The drive to make the right decision – the perfect decision – leads to analysis paralysis. You feel the entire team watching you thinking, “What are you going to do? What decision are you going to make? What if it is wrong? What if it fails?” Scenario after scenario is discussed, ripped apart and reassembled. Charts, graphs, and research pours in with the hope to clarify the situation. In all reality, the pursuit for the be-all and end-all solution is fairytale pursuit that leads to inept decision-making. Or even the most tragic ending point, inaction.
Have you ever come to a point where you think to yourself, “I wish I had a crystal ball”? If you are not intentional, analysis paralysis will settle into your leadership, which will infect your entire team. Next time you face one of these leadership scenarios, quickly surface it. Call it out. Name it. Embrace the potential danger. Accept that failure is a possibility. Then follow these five steps to move the team towards action.
1. CHOOSE WISELY: Surround yourself with the right people.
Team leadership is essential to accomplish anything great. Jim Collins succinctly phrased it this way, “Who before What”. The aim is not just about “having” a team. This is critical no matter what you are leading. But in moments of critical decision making, the who is amplified. There are three types of people fill every team. Can you identify them?
The DOUBTERS: The doubter thinks that he can do it better than you. The doubter thinks that he is a better leader than you. The doubter questions whatever decision you make, even if he agrees with it. Don’t fool yourself. You have at least one person on your team that is a doubter. Ask yourself if the person doubts your leadership or if he is a pessimist by nature. There is a significant difference between the two.
The CHEERLEADERS: You have people on your team that are your cheerleaders. They cheer for you. They are for you. The cheerleader strokes the ego. The encouragement feels good. Who doesn’t like to feel good? The issue is that cheerleaders will naturally avoid conflict and tension in hope to keep you happy. They will also choose not to go against the team’s thinking in order to keep the peace. While it is good to always have people on the team that desire you to win, cheerleaders, if not coached, will tell you what you want to hear – not what you need to hear.
The MAJORITY: The majority of your team is not for you or against you. Their driving force is to see the team win and ultimately accomplishing the goal set before them. The majority look at obstacles objectively, minimizing personal feelings that cloud their processing. The majority give insightful feedback and embrace the tension that surfaces when varying ideas and opinions are voiced.
As a leader it is critical to know each person. Ask yourself these questions: Who is essential to be at the decision-making table? Who will push against mediocracy to surface the best solution? Who embraces moments of tension, understanding what is at stake? Who desires the team to win? Then choose wisely. (And whatever you do, do not let an organization chart trump this decision-making process.)
2. COMMUNICATE CLEARLY: Clearly identify the goal and guardrails.
Once you identify the “who”, pull the team together and focus on the “what”. Before you jump into problem solving, clearly communicate the goal – what you are trying to accomplish. Do not take this step for granted. Do not assume that this is clear for everyone. Clarity is essential. When the team has clarity surrounding the goal, articulate the guardrails. The guardrails, if developed intentionally, will not hinder the discussion. They will actually guide the discussion – keeping the team aligned and focused on the end goal. Move to step #3 only when you are confident that the team is clear and aligned with the goal and guardrails.
3. LISTEN INTENTLY: Ask the right questions and limit your opinion.
If you are like me, you have possible solutions already swirling around your mind. Your pursuit is not to tell the team what you think, but to gain differing insight and perspective that will ultimately help the team own the final decision. Plus, if you chose the right team members you will hear thoughts that will shift your persepctive. Ask great questions and listen. Follow up with additional questions that push the concepts and ideas to a breaking point. Ask questions that shift perspectives so that the team can look at the situation from every angle. Ask questions that create tension and robust dialogue. As you listen, keep the goal and guardrails in focus, moving the discussion forward.
4. EMBRACE UNCERTAINTY: Limit the “what ifs” to avoid analysis paralysis.
The unknown is a debilitating force that must be kept in check. As you ask questions, the team will stumble into the hamster wheel of “what ifs”. What if scenarios are important to process the situation from different angles. Just limit the amount of time dancing around all the what ifs. The reality is that no one has a crystal ball that will reveal the perfect solution. If that device existed, then leadership would be easy and you wouldn’t need a team of leaders.
5. DECIDE QUICKLY: Push for the 70% Solution
Years ago I read a book titled Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines. One principle embedded itself into my leadership framework. The marines call it the 70% Solution. The concept circles around the reality that a 70% percent decision, even if it is not a perfect decision, can be made now. You and the team can course correct along the way once a decision is made. Many times a leader and/or a team pushes for absolute certainty. Why is certainty so critical? Because no one wants to be wrong. Failure is a paralyzing prospect. But the longer you delay the decision in hopes to make a 80% or 90% certain decision, the less time you have to course correct, the situation increases in complexity, and valuable time is wasted. (If you do not want to read the entire book, read this article on Forbes.com.)
Once the team lands on a decision, execute with intensity and precision. Make sure you are open to course-correct as new information surfaces and hidden obstacles emerge.
And at the end of the day, if the solution fails, learn from it. Mature as a team. And repeat.