Manage like you mean it: 6 ways to be more decisive

Part of being a respected manager means being able to make decisions in a timely manner. That comes naturally for some people, but for others tough choices cause them to waver for too long. One major inhibitor -- fear.

"If a manager is prone to risk-aversion, it will also affect his or her ability to move forward with decisions," says Susan Steinbrecher, CEO of Steinbrecher & Associates, a management consulting firm. "I also see leaders/bosses/execs that get caught up in analysis paralysis. This type of leader will continue to gather more and more information -- stats, figures, surveys, etc. -- that ultimately prolong the decision-making process." 

Others emphasize a "no-wave making" policy. "These types of leaders rest on their laurels based on successes from the past, which is very dangerous, especially in today's fast-forward business and economic climate," Steinbrecher adds. 

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Here are six ways to be more decisive, starting with any choices on your plate today:

Chart out priorities. What are the top five impact areas in your decision? Weigh these to make the "right" decision, says Elaine Varelas, managing partner at career-management firm Keystone Partners: "Perhaps they are the short-term financial impact, long-term financial impact, people impact, growth impact, and culture impact. Do the pros and cons for each of these areas." Then, tune out the less important factors.

Ask smarter questions. You may feel indecisive when you don't have enough information. So become better at asking the right questions, says Bob Boudreau, CEO of staffing firm The Winter, Wyman Companies. "It's the manager's job to ignite conversation and to be a catalyst for dialogue. Ask the contrarian questions, be the devil's advocate -- push your team through a thoughtful and provocative decision-making process, where the tough questions have been addressed and the creative ideas have been considered," he says.

Set a decision deadline. If you're the boss, you might not have a deadline for a particular decision, but it's important not to let it drag out indefinitely. "Make the time-frame known to your team and at least one confidant or mentor so that you are held accountable to the dates. If you are especially risk-averse, ask your confidant/mentor to challenge you and point out when you are holding up the decision process," Steinbrecher suggests. 

Designate a devil's advocate. You can play this part (see "Ask smarter questions," above), but outsourcing it can be even more effective. "Assign a team or person to challenge the status quo," Steinbrecher says. "For instance, if reviewing policy changes during a staff meeting, someone (regardless of their beliefs) must take the opposite view and build a case against it." Just having someone covering your bases will help you make a well-rounded choice.

Bring in back-up. "Bounce things off a peer you trust outside of your organization. Weigh out their feedback and the options" they suggest, advises Elizabeth Lions, author of "Recession Proof Yourself." Unlike a trusted confidant in your own office, this person doesn't have any vested interest in the outcome of your decision.

Stop the meeting mayhem. Meetings can be helpful in gaining information, but many just help you avoid making a choice. Plus, meaningless meetings waste not only your precious time, but also that of your entire team. "Sometimes you just need to start heading in a direction. You can always change course midstream," Lions says. 

Practice these strategies regularly and you should become a more competent decision-maker -- and manager -- over time. Boudreau says: "People may not always agree with your decisions, but if you do it right they will trust that you've taken in all of the information, listened to the different perspectives, put some points of consideration out for feedback, and ultimately made a well-informed decision that is best for the company as a whole and for the individual employees."

Photo courtesy of Obsidian Soul via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0

  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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