Note: Last week my colleague Ret blogged about her mother. Her message inspired me to share a story about my dad.
For the past month, my two brothers and I, along with our family members and assorted friends, have been clearing out my 83 year old father’s home and helping him get settled into a new place. This is a significant downsizing for my dad, and it’s the first big life change for him since he was widowed when my mom died six years ago.
My dad (known as “Doc” to his friends) is a vital guy. He still worked up until two years ago, he drives, he makes his own meals, he takes vacations, he exercises daily, he pays his bills, and he does his daily crossword puzzle. He’s even on Facebook. The guy is entirely self-sufficient and on-the-ball.
But there have been a lot of decisions on his shoulders during this move and he hasn’t always been particularly interested in making them. Sometimes he’s thrown his hands up and said “Forget it.”
Imagine having six rooms of furniture, plus a basement chock-full of a lifetime of stuff. It’s not only my parents stuff either: there are boxes from my grandparents and even great grandparents. And because there has been a mix of trash and treasure boxed away, we’ve had to weed through everything. For example, we found a fancy, rolled-into-a-scroll marriage certificate of our great-grandparents wedding in the late 1800s stuffed in an old bag. Imagine if we’d tossed that!
Anyway, all this decision-making has been entirely overwhelming for my dad. (OK, it’s been a little overwhelming for all of us, but my brothers and I have been quite motivated to get it done.)
So we’ve had to cajole my dad a bit at times, and at other times we’ve told him what we would do or we’ve suggested options to him. Yes, we’ve also made plenty of decisions on his behalf. And we’re getting there. We’re planning a yard sale for the spring for the too good to toss, but none of us need it items, as well as the things we know collectors will want. I think one more weekend of unpacking and organizing should get my dad fully settled.
After a month of navigating the “don’t ask me to make another decision” waters with my father, and recognizing people put off decisions because they don’t want to make a bad choice, I’ve been wondering how to help people improve their decision-making skills in the business world. After all, our Clarity Group clients struggle to make decisions too. Clearly, it’s not just personal decisions that are tough.
Here’s my hypothesis: most of us are basically lazy (I hope I haven’t offended anyone; I put myself in that category too!) and if someone else will make the decision, that’s fine with us. That way, we haven’t put our neck on the line, made a mistake, or upset anyone.
But if we are to move our businesses forward, we have to be ruthless decision-makers. The best business leaders I know are just that, and I can only think of a few, which speaks to the difficulty of decisive decision-making.
In the world of non-profits, this is particularly important since the organizational mission is usually to address a problem or improve lives in some way. This is big stuff! You can’t achieve your mission if you avoid the hard decisions.
What to do then? I think the key is to practice decision-making. Like so many other things, we get better at it the more we do it. Here are some reminders about decision making, and they apply to the small, daily decisions, as well as the big, strategic ones.
If you’re a leader in your organization:
- Push decision-making down so your staff hones their own skills. If you’re used to keeping tight control, this might not be easy, but preparing your team for the day you’re not there to make the decisions is a must.
- Stand by your staff when they make a tough judgment call. If you’ve done #1 well, chances are they’ll have put the right thought behind their decision.
- Don’t sweep things under the rug. If you do, it’s the surest way to show your team that they don’t have to make decisions. After all, if you don’t, then why should they?
If you’re an individual contributor in your organization:
- Practice weighing the pros and cons. Make a list. Sometimes seeing things in black and white illuminates the problem clearly.
- Ask lots of questions to make an informed decision. Sometimes describing the problem out loud helps you see the answer.
- Communicate with everyone involved so no one is blind-sided by your decision.
Sometimes there is no perfect decision. But no decision at all is far worse than an imperfect decision. Without a decision,your organization will stagnate. So carry on, and bravely make your decisions. If my dad can do it, you can too!