Should I take this offer or wait for a better one? Should we go with the candidate who has the most experience or the one who needs seasoning but has fire in the belly? Do we purchase n a new computer system now or wait until the next fiscal year?

Over the years, as an executive coach, I have worked with many leaders when they had to make major decisions from pulling the plug on an unprofitable program to letting go of someone for poor performance to confronting a key stakeholder on unethical behavior. My role was not to tell them what to do. Rather it was to help them come to the best decision for themselves and their organization. So here’s what I learned.

As much as we would like to believe that we do not have any prejudices or biases, the fact is that everyone does. The more aware you are of yours, the better off you will be. Below is what I have found that trips up good leaders making good decisions.

Common Decision-Making Mistakes

1. Overvaluing certain information.
People have a tendency to overestimate the importance of some individuals or groups we know or belong to.  Because we respect them, they have a way of swaying our opinion based simply on the fact that we believe they know more than we do. When you find you’re doing this, ask: Do they know as much about this problem as I do? Are their values the same as mine? Have they had any personal experiences with a problem like mine? In other words, keep their opinions in perspective.

2. Discounting certain information.
Whether we realize it or not, we also have a tendency to underestimate the importance of other people or groups. This is unfortunate since a lot of times they can paint a good picture of the “other side” of your problem. Just make a note that if you find yourself discounting the information you receive from anyone, make sure you ask yourself “why”.

4. Only hearing what you want to hear or seeing what you want to see. 
Try this exercise. Ask a friend to look around them and make note of everything that is green. Now, have them close their eyes and ask them what around them is red. Almost no one will be able to tell you what is red because they were focusing on what was green. Our perceptions work the same way. We focus on what we expect to happen, not what is really happening. The key is to be aware of your own expectations that can bias you. Then you can be more open to listen to  things that come your way. 

 Smart Moves Tip:

Decision making can be off the cuff or a deliberate process. It really depends on the circumstances, the time limit and the people involved. In either case, make sure you are aware of your decision making habits. Do you overestimate or underestimate certain people’s input? Do you pretend to hear what others are saying or are you really listening? Can you see the potential of an idea even if it’s not well formed yet? Realize the outcome of a leader’s decisions can, and usually will, make or break them and their organization. As much as you may wish it wasn’t so, when it comes to being a leader you’re really only as good as the decisions you make.


Marcia Zidle, the smart moves executive coach and speaker, is host of The Business Edge on the Voice America Business Network. The show features the Smart Growth System providing small to medium sized businesses the proper foundation for expansion: a Growth Agenda that becomes their roadmap, a Growth Engine that attracts and engages the best talent and Growth Leaders that make it happen. Marcia, the CEO of Leaders At All Levels, brings street smarts to help businesses get on the right track and not get sidetracked on their path to higher performance and profitability.