In ages past, life required fewer decisions. You married Sally, the only eligible girl in the county. Your daddy worked as an oat farmer, and you did too. You drove a Model T, and it was painted black.
By contrast, options abound these days. Your university offers 300 potential majors and 3,000 potential spouses. You can drive a Subaru, Scion, Saab, or Suzuki. With 200 TV channels, (not to mention TiVo, DVDs, Netflix, and Hulu), you can flip through reruns of Matlock until your remote control explodes.
Here’s a fundamental rule of decision-making. When you say yes to one thing, you say no to another. That’s why decision making is difficult. One door opens and another shuts tight.
Having endless choices today means it’s easier than ever to become stuck in the mire of analysis-paralysis. A big decision lies before you, and you hope to leave your options open for as long as possible. So you hem and haw, dilly and dally, and delay the inevitable.
But by remaining undecided, you’ve actually made a choice. You’ve inadvertently chosen a big fat pile of . . . nothing!
And when you choose nothing, then nothing happens. For instance:
• Your career stays stagnant.
• The girl grows impatient and dumps you.
• Your marriage suffers because you’re too chicken to get that vasectomy.
So how does a leader make decisions?
Below are five principles of sound decision-making.
1. Start with prayer.
You might be a stringent atheist who thinks prayer is a load of dishwater. If so, skip to the next point.
Yet I place prayer in first place for a reason. If you’re a person with any modicum of faith, then you may find that sometimes you’ve positioned prayer dead last, and that needs to change.
Why? The epistle of James lays it out bluntly and boldly. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
Start by praying, then proceed.
2. Write out the pros and cons.
Do your research. Chart the practical ramifications. Make your list and check it twice.
Each decision contains both opportunities and challenges. If you buy a house then you won’t be a renter anymore. If you marry a girl then you won’t be single anymore.
You’re a smart cookie. Ask yourself, when it comes to choosing either X or Y, which direction appears most prudent?
3. Seek advice.
A wise leader seldom makes decisions in a vacuum. He invites input from a small cadre of trusted advisors. He purposely allows them to ask him hard questions before a decision is made.
Ask yourself: What do wise people think is the right decision for me to make?
4. Wait 24 hours.
Most big decisions don’t need to be made instantly.
This principle particularly applies to going to war, getting married, or having your girlfriend’s name tattooed across your chest. A wise leader knows when to walk out of the Lamborghini showroom. He refuses to buy on impulse.
Yet the principle of patience can also be carried too far. It’s best to give yourself a reasonable deadline to mull your decision—a day, a week, or a year. Then pull the trigger.
5. Do a gut-check.
Peace is underrated, particularly that intangible soul-deep type of peace that’s hard to describe other than by the phrase, “You know when you know.”
How does something truly sit in your stomach? Imagine yourself making a decision, and then imagine yourself living with it over time.
Ask yourself: Can I truly live with this choice?
Okay, you’ve got the principles. What big decision do you need to make?
Mull your decision. Then make it.
Question: What’s an important decision you made, and how did you make it?