5 tips to make more effective executive decisions


How many decisions do you make every day?

According to Cornell University researchers: more than 35,000. Every. Single. Day.

Decision-making is one of a CEO’s most important jobs, and one of the easiest to do wrong. It doesn’t have to be like that though. Here are 5 tips to improve your decision-making effectiveness – and help you grow faster and with less pain.

1. Which decision-making style should you adopt?

Different situations require different decision-making styles. However, when making tough strategic decisions, you tend to rely on the decision-making style that has made you successful so far: you may be good at consensus building, or at fast action-driven decision-making, or at gathering lots of data before making the call. This tendency is even more pronounced in stressful situations: you become an exaggerated version of yourself, which limits your ability to opt for a different decision-making style.

Effective leadership requires the ability to identify which decision-making style is most appropriate in a given situation, and lead accordingly.

Carol Kauffman in this article identifies four main decision-making styles:

  • Lean In (ie be decisive).
  • Lean Back (be analytical).
  • Lean With (be collaborative and empathetic).
  • Don’t Lean (let others speak up).

Your next steps are:

  1. Identify your most natural decision-making style among these 4.
  2. Intently practice the 3 other decision-making responses.
  3. Practice identifying in which situation each of the 4 styles is most appropriate.

This will increase your leadership agility: you will be able to nimbly pick whichever style best fits each situation – even in stressful situations.

2. What are you deciding on? Reframe the question

Leaders often confuse the “What” and the “How” – and often answer the “What” (ie the strategic choice you have to make) based on whether they know “How” to execute on it. For instance: “Should we grow internationally?” “I don’t see how to make that happen, so let’s not do it.”

In reality these are two separate questions, and the What question comes first. Only then is the How question relevant.

To separate both questions, ask yourself:

“What would you decide if it was easy?”

This (temporarily) eliminates the How question and helps you focus on what truly matters. Once you have made up your mind on What you want to accomplish, the conversation about How is easier – because it is not polluted by the non-existent option NOT to pursue this goal.

3. What is the 3rd option? Avoid the binary trap

Leaders tend to think of strategic decisions in a binary way – eg “Should we acquire this company or should we not?” Binary choices are easier for your brain to handle.

Yet they create a tunnel vision that prevents you from considering alternative, potentially better options (e.g. Get a minority stake, sign a long-term partnership, set up a joint venture,…). Dichotomic choices lead to snap judgments that don’t adapt well to changing circumstances and contribute to a “with me or against me” mindset.

Expanding perspectives beyond binary choices, however, creates a nuanced perspective on potential risks and opportunities.

According to Professor Sheena Iyengar’s research in The Art of Choosing, 3 to 6 options are ideal. Extra options (beyond the basic yes/no options) will make your debate richer and your decisions more effective. Make these extra options as different from the first two as possible.

4. What is the cost of NOT deciding?

Fear drives indecision. Fear of failure, fear of uncertainty, fear of losing face,… When making key decisions “you put yourself under a lot of expectations,” says behavioral scientist Nuala Walsh.

The more information you have, the more confident you feel about making the right decision. But there is a tipping point – too much information can be confusing: you start questioning your own knowledge as you try to make the “perfect” decision – what venture capitalist Patrick McGinnis calls FOBO: the Fear of a Better Option. “Indecision has a cost” though, says Walsh.

To avoid this “analysis paralysis,” consider the following questions:

  • What is the cost of postponing (or not making) this decision? Delaying a tough decision often makes things worse – how much worse, in your situation?
  • What is the worst thing that can happen if you decide X?
  • What is the likelihood that it will happen? (if it is low, you have just made your decision easier).
  • If it happens: what will you do about it?

5. What truly matters here? Start with the end in mind

Imagine yourself in 100 years, on your deathbed. You see the faces of the people you love, sitting with you – and you are satisfied with your life: you have accomplished what you wanted to achieve, and much more. You think back about this moment, 100 years ago, when you had to make that important decision.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • In insights: what was the real challenge for you in that moment? What truly mattered?
  • On the other hand: what seemed important at that time, but was actually just white noise?

“People often find themselves achieving victories that are empty. It is very easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life, writes Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. By keeping that end in mind you can make certain that [that decision] contributes in a meaningful way to the vision you have of your life.”

The quality of your decisions determines the quality of your business. Improving the effectiveness of your decision-making process will help you grow faster and with less pain.


You can access the original article and its sources here: 5 Tips to Make More Effective Decisions – Ambrose Growth | Business Coaching


Updated: May 14, 2024

About the author
Xavier Lederer of Ambrose Growth is a member of XPX Hartford

Call me when your client is frustrated because their business is not growing as fast as they want. As a business coach I help companies identify and remove growth roadblocks so they can grow faster and with less pain.