“Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality in a good leader.” – General George Patton
If you make decisions, you will surely get complaints. Making decisions is drawing a line in the sand – closing certain doors. When leaders make decisions, it is more than likely that we will be shutting down one persons opportunity or idea in favor of another. On the other hand, some leaders prefer to make choices. Choices leave other options open. Choices aren’t nearly as definitive as a decision might be, and won’t get you nearly the level of focused output.
For example, if I choose chocolate ice cream at Baskin-Robins, no one is going to be shocked if I change my mind. In fact, that doesn’t mean I can’t choose bubblegum next time I’m in the shop. Consider how we commonly use choices in our everyday life – you probably recently filled out a from that asked for your first, second, and third choice. Choices leave the options on the table. In contrast, I could make the decision that I will only eat chocolate ice cream. The doors are now closed for everything else. They may as well pack it up and put it away, because it’s not worth offering anymore. The decision has been made. Can you imagine a form asking you for your first, second, and third decision? We don’t make second decisions, we only make one decision.
In leadership, there are times for both choices and decisions. The point of this post is not to conclude that one is inherently better that the other.
The most important point here is that there is a difference between choices and decisions, and they will provide different results.
As leaders, we often find ourselves in a situation where we must draw out extra capacity from our team. It is in these times that more decisions, and less choices, can be an effective avenue. When we make decisions and take the other options off the table, it allows everyone on our team to focus. Whether they fully agree with the direction of that decision or not, it provides one direction to put time and energy towards. This will increase output around one idea, and advance it more rapidly. An example might be two new product ideas on your desk. One might be closer in nature to your existing product line. A choice might be, “I’d like to pursue option A, because it is closer to our original product line”. This choice still leaves option B on the table for another time. In fact, it leaves the door open for pursuing any other type of product option later. In contrast, a decision would say, “we only pursue new product options that are relative to our current product offerings, so we will pursue option A”. Not likely we will come back to option B, nor will other employees spend much time offering anything else. The direction is pretty clear.
The difficulty here is that decisions are not really great for building a culture of innovation, inclusion, and fresh ideas. Decisions, similar to goals, can narrow our focus so much that we loose our edge of creativity. None the less, there are seasons when we just need more from our team. If you are in one of those seasons, consider taking a look at whether you are making decisions or choices. Maybe making a few decisions could bring some better focus from your team.