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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

Making Tough Decisions in Uncertain Times

Tough decisions exist everywhere in our lives. Everything from who to hire to what to buy, starting a new business or quitting your job, tough decisions can be very overwhelming and stress-filled. Many leaders do not have a system or process they use to make these decisions. This can often lead to fear and procrastination or a rushed and hurried decision making. The key is to have a proven process to use when tough decisions appear.

Way back in the 1980s when I was just starting my leadership and management career, almost every decision seemed tough to me. This was because I had not made many of them before. I had never had to do a business budget, hire people, or train people. Also, another thing that was happening at this time was that I was the lead person who was finding and developing acquisition deals for our young and growing organization. I had no experience in this whatsoever. The biggest purchase I had made up until that point was a brand new 1983 Ford Mustang that I had agreed to purchase for a little over $10,000.

In the latter part of 1984, I had received an offer to relocate to a different city and assume a position in middle management. The other option was to wait for an opportunity which was going to be coming my way at the beginning of 1985 to actually be the one to run a very small, but ambitious and growing company. Since I was already in middle management at the time, I thought the other offer was a chance to be at the top and not relocate rather than the lateral middle management with relocating to another city. Of course, at the ripe old age of 23, I went only on “gut.” Good thing for me, it seemed to work out, although as I look back on that decision today and how I made it, I shudder.

How you ultimately made decisions can mean the difference in massive failure or success for you. What do you do when you are faced with tough decisions? Many people become paralyzed and worried that if you choose wrong, terrible things could happen. We become overwhelmed and really have no idea where to begin. The reality is, there are a multitude of people who make difficult decisions every single day, decisions that shape everything from companies to countries! So, how to do it?

I think above all you need to write everything down having to do with the decision. I am going to share some things you need to consider and contemplate, but don’t try to keep it all in your head, commit all your thoughts to paper. Here is a process I have used for a long time which I have had success with, as you use it, you may find you tinker with it to suit your own needs, but I think this framework works pretty well.

1. Get Clear on Your Outcomes

What is the result that you are trying to achieve? Why do you want to achieve it? You need clarity about your outcomes and their importance to you and/or the organization. Visualize your goal and make sure whatever you choose to experience is aligned with your values and your WHY. Without having this clarity, making tough decisions just becomes more and more difficult. Reasons come first and answers come second. If you don’t know the reasons why, your brain will send you mixed signals and you will have trouble executing and following through. Get as specific as possible!

2. Know Your Options

Write down all your possible options, including those that may sound wacky or unlikely. One option is NO choice. Two options is a DILEMMA. Three options provide a choice. Write down all the possible options whether or not you like them. The more options you have, the more confident you will be in making the final call.

3. Assess Risk

Look carefully at the options you now have. What are the upsides and downsides of each option? What do you gain with each option? What does it possibly cost you? By fully calculating possible consequences, you can better use fear before it uses you. If you are clear on your outcomes and committed to your vision, you will know even the direct consequences of making tough decisions are better than no decision. The more detail you can get on risk, the better.

4. Evaluate Your Options

So then ask, how close do I get to my desired outcomes with each of the options I have? How important on a scale of 0-10 is each upside and downside in terms of getting to my desired outcomes? What is the probability (0-100%) that the upside/downside will happen? What is the emotional benefit and consequence if each option were to happen? This is especially important in emotionally tough decisions such as dealing with relationships or children or employees. After jotting down and reviewing these answers, you will probably be able to eliminate some of the options from your list.

5. Game Out the Defense

Now, for each of your remaining options, you need to review the downsides. Brainstorm some effective ways to eliminate those downsides. The more ideas you can come up with, the better prepared you will be to face the potential consequence. The reason these are tough decisions is usually because of what could happen if you make the wrong choice. This part of the process is important because it provides you with the chance to be pro-active about how to handle any fallout should it happen.

6. Decision

Here we are, the Holy Grail, the big finale! Based on the most probable outcomes and consequences, select the option you believe provides the greatest certainty you will meet your desired needs. This is your best option because you have worked a process and looked at many other possibilities, you have confidence this is the right decision! This helps you beat procrastination and fear when making tough decisions and avoid the deadliest thing, inaction. Have confidence that no matter what happens, this will give you a win. Even if your decision technically fails, you can still choose what that means to you and use it to learn and get better with each time you use this decision-making process. Repetition and learning build skill and mastery.

7. Map Out the Execution and Evaluation

Finally, once you have made the decision, spend an adequate amount of time designing your process of executing the decision and how you are going to measure its progress and effectiveness toward your desired outcome. At this point, all that’s left is to massively take action!

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