The art of choosing: 5 keys to making better decisions

The art of choosing: 5 keys to making better decisions

Leadership has been defined as the art of making great decisions. Indeed it could be argued that the measure of a well-lived life is the quality of the decisions we make. We are not talking about the outcomes of our decisions, over which we actually have little control. Character is demonstrated more clearly by how we make our decisions, rather than by their results. With this in mind let me offer you five ways to start making better decisions.

1. Get more options on the table

Dr Therese Huston is a psychologist who specialises in decision-making. She argues that often when we try and make a decision we think we have two options in front of us when in fact we only have one. She gives the example of a company trying to tackle a parking problem at the office:

DECISION: Shall we build a car park OR shall we not build a car park?

Huston argues that trying to get a minimum of three real options on the table means that higher quality decisions are made. So in the example above a better starting point for the decision could be:

DECISION: Shall we build a carpark OR shall we give employees a free bus pass OR shall we encourage people to work more from home? 

The Bible offers similar advice: Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” I notice that sometimes when we seek counsel from others we limit the outcome by asking: “Shall I do this or not?” A better way of deploying the wisdom of our friends and mentors could be to ask them to help us generate more options to consider. When seeking wisdom from our friends we could ask “How would you solve this problem…?” For example:

DECISION: Should I allow my 15 year old to play 18 rated Xbox games OR not?

It may be better to phrase the question:

DECISION: How can I encourage my teenager to make good decisions about gaming?

Seeking the counsel of a number of people we consider wise but from different contexts may help to give a wider range of solutions. Our problem when trying to make a decision is that we are unaware of how narrow our view of the problem is. Huston gives the example of trying to get more creative about what you eat for breakfast. If you are standing in the cereal aisle of the supermarket, you might try out a new cereal, perhaps mixing cornflakes with rice crispies. But if you are in a farmers market, you might get inspired to try eggs with avocados, or bacon with maple syrup, or a vegetable smoothie. So getting a wider perspective can be helpful and another person can help us to achieve that. Another parent at church may well give you a yes/no recommendation to the first question. But ask around at work and church and among your child’s peers and you may be surprised that a whole range of surprising options open up: “If your child is into gaming, then I could really use his help at my youth group on a Friday night”; ” Did you know there are parental controls that limit certain downloads?” “I get my son to turn the volume off so he doesn’t hear the swearing.”

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