We all know leaders whose thinking is constrained by their past experiences and their existing belief systems. They open problem-solving or decision-making dialogue around an issue and proceed to steer the solutions towards the one they have in mind. In their view, theirs is the only logical and sound conclusion. 

Top performing leaders take a different view. They:

  1. Believe that a preparedness to suspend their beliefs in order to take appropriate account of fresh insights and ideas is critical to the success of the enterprise
  2. Look at all the evidence before making a decision
  3. Are prepared to revise their opinions as fresh evidence comes to light
  4. Value their intuition, particularly where there is a sense of urgency, but recognise its limitations
  5. Are able to make informed decisions very quickly.

We often encounter narrow thinking in new leaders. They frequently show an over-reliance on their own expertise to make judgments and fail to take account of the hard evidence or the opinions of others. Such leaders were previously valued as individual contributors for providing such expert opinions. Faced with a new team they can fall back on their expertise in order to earn credibility and bolster self-confidence in their new role as leader. Of course, team members simply stop contributing ideas and views because they fall on ‘deaf ears’. 

Sometimes, intuition or ‘gut feel’ is sensitive to the finer details of decisions and unearths key information that processes miss. As a result, advocates of intuitive decision-making suggest that your intuition reveals elements of a situation that your ability to reason cannot. However, as the world becomes increasingly complex, decisions based on experience or ‘hunch’ alone will be compromised. Many decisions leaders face at work today have a greater novelty factor, meaning dependency on prior experience limits your ability to find the best way forward without thorough research. 

Simple tactical decisions, where the cost of errors may be low, can still be made through gut-feel. This can add speed and free up time and resources to focus on more strategic issues. Where the stakes are high however, you will benefit from ‘taking time to make time’ or face the possible consequences. Research tells us that where decisions are made following rigorous procedures, achieving desired outcomes increases. 

So, how can you develop your decision-making abilities? You can believe, think, say, do and ask yourself ...


Limiting beliefs held by leaders in relation to decision-making include: 

  • I have all the answers
  • I should have all the answers
  • My credibility relies on me knowing everything.

Top leaders have confidence in what they do know, coupled with a willingness to accept that they cannot (should not) know everything. Establishing what decisions need to be made and what information is needed in order to decide, enables processes to be followed resulting in considered decisions and managed risk. 


A willingness to explore what you don’t know when big decisions have to be made, is a great starting point for leaders. Openness to new thinking develops flexibility in your learning as a leader, which is vital in the current environment. Without hampering speed, also seek to tap into the advice and thinking of others too. Ultimately, some decisions will have to be made by you – take as much time as you can to consider your options from the available data and then decide. 


Again, questions will be your ally in decision-making. Asking questions at a deep-level helps ensure you are aware of all available information. This means digging beyond initial responses you receive, so you can test the robustness of the data you are being given. 


Here are eight steps to take when faced with a critical leadership decision.

8 steps to take when faced with a critical leadership decision

The next time you face a critical leadership decision, try the following:

  1. Identify a wide range of possible courses of action
  2. Fully research each possible approach
  3. Identify the possible positive and negative consequences of each option
  4. Search for any new missing information or expert opinion relative to each of the options
  5. Assimilate new information accurately, even if it does not support your initial preference
  6. Re-examine all possible future positive and negative consequences 
  7. Make detailed plans for implementing the preferred approach.  

And here are four actions to when faced with a critical leadership decision.

4 traps to avoid when making a critical leadership decision

1. Do not give excessive credence to the first option thought of in the interests of speed or looking smart.

2. Do not favour approaches that support the status quo in order not to create further disruption or change. 

3. Do not back options that support earlier choices made, even though they have been shown to be flawed, in order to avoid embarrassment.

4. Do not ‘only’ collect evidence that supports YOUR preferred option above the ideas of others.

Ask yourself …  

  1. How am I influencing the final option? 
  2. What else can I do to ensure the decision is as robust as possible? 
  3. How diligently have I ensured this process has been? 
  4. What would my line manager say if they reviewed our decision-making process at this point?
  5. What is stopping me deciding? 
  6. How can we further manage the risks without hampering the time the decision will take to make? 
  7. When will I know that we have enough data to decide? 

This content is taken from Leader iD by David Pilbeam and Glenn Wallis. Published by Pearson Publishing. Available here.

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