Leaders solve problems and make decisions daily because it is part of their job.
When a problem arises, a skillful leader can gather information, size up the situation, make a decision, and then evaluate the impact of that decision. Some leaders process information differently than others and at a different pace.
I have clients like this, and they tell me that self-doubt often creeps in when they are trying to make decisions. They feel that if they work at a slower pace it might send a message that they are lacking a sense of urgency. But, the opposite is actually true because internally they are processing and trying to figure out the solution. Because of this, their solutions are more successful than their faster-processing peers because they have looked at all angles, assessed the pros and cons, and thought of multiple solutions. But, as this all goes on internally, no one else has a clue.
No matter how fast or slow you process problems and solutions, there is a structured method you can follow.
This method can be applied to almost any problem, whether you are solving it yourself or with the help of others.
1. Identify the Situation
You need to know what the issue is before you can solve it. While this seems obvious, there are often multiple issues or you may have people disagreeing on what constitutes the actual problem.
2. Define the Objectives
Determine what you are trying to achieve by solving the problem, what does the result look like? You also need to determine when the decision needs to be made because some things are more urgent than others. Within this step, it is also important to determine who will make the decision and who will implement it.
3. Evaluate the Effect of the Situation
Problems always impact one or more people and it is important to identify who is affected by the situation and how they are being impacted.
4. Identify Possible Causes of the Problem
Sometimes the obvious cause might not be the actual underlying cause and you need to know this. Otherwise, you are simply implementing a superficial solution and the real problem will resurface later.
5. Frame the Possible Solutions
There are usually multiple solutions to a problem, and you will need to determine if a temporary fix will suffice or if you need a permanent solution. This will depend on time, money, and other factors.
6. Make the Decision
Steps 1 – 5 are the gathering of information that you need to do before you can make any decision. That is where my clients get stuck because many of them take longer than others to gather information. If you are someone who takes longer to gather and process information, then I recommend you give yourself a deadline. At some point, you must stop gathering information and go with what you know. At that point, you make the decision based on the integration of ideas and data. During this step, you must also communicate the decision, why it was made, and your rationale. Ah, the rationale – that is why steps 1 – 5 are so important! So, if you are a fast-processing leader and you try to skip those steps you may regret it down the line.
7. Implement the Decision
Many times, leaders make the decision but then never ensure it gets implemented. Does this sound familiar to you? Perhaps you are not the one responsible for implementation but, as a leader, you are certainly responsible for making sure it gets implemented. That means you need to oversee things like how, when, what, and where.
8. Measure the Impact of the Decision
Implementation is not the end of the cycle because then you should be assessing the impact of what, how, and who has changed due to this decision. Measurement rarely happens but it is the only way to know for sure if the decision is working.
This method may seem lengthy and time-consuming but with practice you can learn to move through it with relative ease.
Whether you are a slow or fast decision-maker these steps give you a solid framework by which to gather information, decide on and implement a solution, and validate and measure your decision.