Leaders are tasked with making many decisions for their organizations each day — some easy, some difficult. Mastering an effective decision-making process — a reliable method for tackling decisions — is the key to making better ones. And it isn’t easy.
Few know this better than Admiral James Stavridis, one of the great naval leaders of our time, who spent his career making countless decisions under enormous pressure. In his book, “To Risk It All: Nine Conflicts and the Crucible of Decision,” Stavridis draws out a series of leadership lessons from well-known episodes, both successful and not, in United States naval history. He uses these stories to critique the decision-making process by analyzing both what went wrong and what went right. Stavridis asks what steps those leaders took to arrive at their decisions, and what improvements might have achieved better outcomes.
In analyzing these stories, Stavridis identifies the key steps of a good decision-making process:
- Gather all the intelligence. Do your homework! Have all of the necessary information before coming to a decision.
- Be wary of confusing assumptions and facts. Do not confuse things you think are true with things that are indisputably
- Understand the timeline. How long do you have to make this decision? Is this a tight deadline or can you take your time?
- Consider all the possible outcomes. Often we only consider a possible positive outcome while ignoring a bad one, or vice versa. Be sure to see both sides.
- Evaluate resources. What people, tools, etc. do you have at your disposal?
- Focus on your people. Keep your entire team’s best interests in mind.
- Don’t be too emotionally involved. Be able to take a step back and emotionally detach yourself at the point of decision. Do not make decisions based solely on emotion.
- Be willing to change your mind. Many leaders forget that they can change their minds based on new circumstances or information. There is no need to dig your heels in!
- Be determined. After taking all the above into account, be strong and determined in making your decision.
Law firm leaders are unlikely to face naval battles or mutiny among sailors, but today’s complex economic and political environment is not unlike an ocean full of uncertainty. The consequential decisions they make each day will determine the course of their business. Embracing a sensible process for approaching those choices, and executing that process with confidence, will keep law firms’ ships on course.