I worked with a vice-president of a major corporation who was a great decision maker.
"You make such good decisions. What's your secret?" I asked.
"First, I decide if I have a choice," he told me. "If not, I don't waste my time deciding."
That advice has often saved me from mulling over a fact of life that can't be changed. When I genuinely have a choice in a difficult leadership decision, I rely on ten helpful questions.
1. What are my options?
J.C. Cain, a distinguished doctor of Mayo Clinic, once told me, "A great diagnostician knows the most symptoms. Any practicing doctor can diagnose the common illnesses. At Mayo, we specialize in knowing and thus seeing what's not obvious." Similarly, those who know the most options see what's not obvious and make a better decision.
Robert McNamara, former president of Ford Motor Company, once asked an executive who brought him a decision, "What did you decide not to do?" He wanted to know that the person had thought of more than one way.
The secret in developing options is doing our thinking early. If we wait till the last minute, we don't have time. I've become so option-driven that my son, Fred, gave me an engraved sign: BUT on the other hand. Increased options increase our chance of being right.
2. Is this mutually beneficial?
Maxey Jarman, who built Genesco to become the world's third largest apparel company, was one of my mentors. He acquired many businesses as he built the corporation, and he would say, "Don't drive a bargain so hard that the other person becomes a loser." That creates a wedge in the relationship and generates retaliation.
Some decisions are difficult to make mutual. Several times, I've had to let an employee go. I agree with the chairman of a bank who called such moments ...