A Will And A Way

Don’t judge me. I was watching House, the show about the antisocial maverick doctor who specializes in diagnostic medicine. The episode was about a woman who was experiencing Abulia (pronounced ah-bool-ya) which is a mental illness associated with the inability to act decisively. It is a clinical lack of willpower.

I often watch TV or a movie while I work. Mostly it’s just background noise that helps me focus, but I can usually tell you the plot line of whatever came on. Something about this episode stuck with me. The plot of House is always a situation where they must make a decision to treat a patient without enough information, because they don’t have time to gather more data. Often, they make the decision to use treatment as a diagnostic tool.

House is a little contrived, I’ll admit, but the concept of making a decision without all the information is not. In fact, we never have all the information. We are always acting on a partial understanding of any given situation. We must get good at balancing making the best decision we can, with the information we have, in a reasonable amount of time.

We are talking about decisiveness—the ability to make decisions quickly and effectively.

At the Global Leadership Summit a couple years ago, Craig Groeshel talked about GETMO, “Good Enough To Move On”. GETMO is a catchy way to remember the reality of the law of diminishing returns. Simply put, early investment in a process produces increasing returns. Eventually, more investment only generates constant returns. After that, additional investment actually produces negative returns.

The trick in decision making is to make a decision at the point where the graph is beginning to level off, but before it actually does. Typically, this point occurs when we have about 70% of the information needed to completely understand the decision. We make the most efficient decisions when we become adept at being decisive with less information.

Often people with Abulia can be treated by increasing dopamine levels. In much the same way, we can increase our decision-making efficiency and speed by practicing a few things consistently:

Make small decisions quickly. The potential for negative outcomes is often part of what makes us resistant to choosing. Small decisions have small consequences and are, therefore, easier to make with less information. This practice will improve our will to make a choice as we reinforce that many decisions we make are correct.

Be confident. If you are capable of making the decision, trust yourself. If you are not comfortable with the underlying knowledge base, then get help. Confident people don’t know everything, but they do know a lot, and they know when to ask for help. Also, remember all the choices you have made that were correct.

Narrow your choices. We are often capable of ruling out a choice or direction long before we can choose one. Reducing the options, when possible, allows us to focus our attention and effort on fewer things, increasing the likelihood we can make a choice that is good enough to move on.

I am grateful that the decisions I make every day are not responsible for the life or death of a patient like Dr. House. However, as a leader, the decisions I make do impact the quality of life for hundreds of people and their families. The speed at which I am able to make those decisions can mean the difference in the life of our culture and organization.

We must have both the will and the way to be decisive leaders. By practicing quick and efficient decision-making, being confident and humble, and avoiding the trap of keeping too many options open, we can make the critical decisions needed for the health of our community. Being a decisive leader is like being a great diagnostician, and it’s also the Bison Way.