Resourced Leaders

'Resourced Leaders' is a premier Australian based Leadership Performance organisation that specialises in working with senior executives, leaders and high performing individuals who aspire to greater levels of personal leadership and success.

Will you risk it?

Posted by Phil Owens
Phil Owens
Philip is one of Australia’s leading performance and leadership specialists. He
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on Thursday, 26 April 2012 in Leadership

I was coaching a client on their approach to decision making. In their risk-averse organisation, decisions were rarely taken, and this was leading to a high level of frustration in my client, who was really keen to get things done.

Taking decisions as a manager or leader involves a certain amount of risk. We can never have all the information. In fact, we take decisions where we cannot know all the information, because the knowledge of the success or failure of the decision we take exists only in the future.

As I worked with this client, I outlined how the process of taking decisions is really about risk and reward. In the human brain, we are more sensitive to avoiding risk than to seeking reward. This makes sense as a survival strategy, but in terms of making quality decisions will often reduce decision making to risk avoidance. In organisations that are ‘defensive’, this need for survival skyrockets and can bring decision making to a stand-still.

You may have seen this in organisations as ‘analysis paralysis’, where uncertain managers avoid taking decisions by continually seeking more and more information.

In a way this gives them more ‘comfort’ but is an expensive exercise because:

· It wastes time and effort that could be used on other profitable task.

· Collecting and analysing data has a financial and physical cost.

· It means that the decision making process (often meetings, report preparation, negotiations or presentations) have to be repeated, also at an increased cost to the organisation.

Consumer behaviour research suggests that we seek certainty, and when the decision is about an unknown or an intangible outcome, we engage in greater amounts of information search, utilising both internal references (experiences) and external references (search, learning or recommendations). How can we structure decisions so that we can make them as effectively and efficiently as possible, with the best possible outcomes?

Here are a few tips that I shared with the client, that may help you ‘risk it’ and take that decision:

1. Define exactly what the decision is that needs to be taken. If the decision is too big, it can seem impossible to solve. People naturally go into ‘overwhelm’ and will seek to avoid such big decisions. Break it down into specific, concrete, answerable questions.

2. Map out WHY the decision needs to be taken and how it fits the overall vision or purpose. Define the risks and benefits of taking the decision, and importantly NOT taking the decision. These steps can be vital in selling the decision to others, and understanding if the decision needs to be taken at all.

3. Identify the criteria for taking the decision. Setting ‘go’ and ‘no go’ criteria allows a framework for taking the decision. This creates certainty in the process, rather than in the outcome. Define what information is needed for you to take the decision in the first place.

4. Define what information is needed to take the decision, and collect it. Often people collect information and try to see how it fits into the decision rather than the other way around. This creates extra uncertainty and often doesn’t deliver the information that is required to take the decision.

5. Be clear and how you will judge if the decision in successful or not, and when you will test it. Too often decisions are taken and rapidly overturned, or are taken and never checked. If the decision is important, then having a process of checking the outcome at an appropriate time will allow it to be used as the basis for further decisions, as well as learning for future decision taking.

6. Bring the right people and resources in to help you. Understand that often others have information or suggestions that can aid the decision making, whilst others can interfere with the process. Be careful who you listen to based upon how the question is framed.

7. Don’t let the ‘what if’ question destroy your decision making process by making yourself uncertain. ‘What if’ questions are only useful if they are answered, as they can act to protect from realistic risks. Because ‘what if’ implies looking for problems in the future, if these additional questions are unstructured or unanswered, they only increase uncertainty and discourage decision taking. For ‘What if’ questions, test if they are relevant, if they could reasonably answered, and if they need to be answered now.

Decision making is important in moving forward, whether in your workplace, in your career, or your life. Having an approach which deals with the risks and allows you to take and sell a decision can make a huge difference in your performance.

In the end, leaders are those who can take decisions in ambiguous circumstances. When leaders operate on the basis of their purpose and use structured methods to make decisions, they increase the likelihood of making the decision a high quality, effective and efficient one.

How do you make decisions when others are frozen in their tracks? I would love to hear your stories.

Stay Resourceful,



Philip is one of Australia’s leading performance and leadership specialists. He honed his skills working with executives and leaders around the world, coaching and consulting in over 30 countries, from entrepreneurial start-ups to boards of multi-billion dollar businesses.


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Guest Tuesday, 26 March 2019