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Thursday, June 8, 2023

How To Overcome Self-Doubt When Making Decisions As A Leader

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Sergej is the CEO of Amasty, one of the leading Magento extension vendors building their products and services around customers’ needs.

Every day, business leaders make dozens of decisions. Within these decisions, sometimes you’re faced with obstacles that are easy to overcome; some are harder. Some decisions go unnoticed; others can occupy your attention for a long time. In some cases, making a decision might cause you to lose sleep and your peace of mind.

In extreme cases, even when the issue is “solved,” your mind might still overthink it as you replay the scenario over and over again, questioning what you could have done differently. These situations could be related to expensive purchases, thinking about the next step in your career or, as was the case for me personally, the agony of figuring out how to develop your company. It can be increasingly difficult to make a choice and then remain unsure whether it was the right one.

Last year, I found an approach that gave me back my sleep and became my compass for decision-making. The process I use for making decisions is:

• Decision categorization: Determine which group the task/decision in question belongs to in terms of importance.

• Tool selection: Choose the best approach for each group.

• Determine goal(s): It is not enough to make a decision; it is important to understand whether the desired result is achieved.

Decision Categorization

I think of our brain kind of like a car engine: When making a decision, you consume energy, just as an engine consumes fuel. From my perspective, if you spend a lot of fuel on choosing breakfast, clothes and plans for the evening, you may run out of fuel when it comes time to make an important decision for your future or your company’s growth strategy. That is why, before embarking on a decision, it is important to understand the level of its impact. I divide all decisions into three groups to better evaluate them:

• Routines: Decisions that fall into this group include basic tasks such as food choices or meeting times.

• Tactics: The decisions in this group are more significant in terms of influence, but you can easily assess the result and adjust your choice accordingly. This group might include decisions such as planning a vacation, choosing appliances or choosing the tools to test a hypothesis.

• Strategy: This level of influence is high and the results are difficult to assess quickly. Here is where you’d decide on the number of floors in your future house and the layout of the walls, for instance. Another example could be the decision to open a new business line in your company.

In my experience, the very understanding of the issue’s importance makes the decision-making process much easier.

Tool Selection

After familiarizing yourself with the decision categories, it’s important to understand which decision-making tools you should use for each. When it comes to mental tools, I’ve seen that there seems to be a desire to find a universal tool — a “silver bullet” for all problems. However, I’ve found there are a variety of tools and strategies leaders can use to help them make timely decisions:

• Don’t make a decision at all. This approach works when there are two or three alternatives and the cost of the decision is small. If I don’t know whether I like a t-shirt or pair of sneakers better in a store, for example, I might buy both to avoid spending my energy on a meticulous analysis of each option.

• Automate the process. Consider whether there are any choices you can make once and use consistently moving forward. An ideal example would be menu planning. Perhaps every Monday, you have eggs for breakfast, Tuesday you have oatmeal and so on. You automated those choices and made them part of your routine, so you don’t have to waste energy on decision-making.

• Delegate. Even if you know all of the in’s and out’s of your company, don’t waste your energy on making a decision for everyone who works for you. Life will be much easier if you allow your team to do their own thing.

• Evaluate the alternative’s potential. When you evaluate your options, base your evaluation solely on the potential of each decision. The actual results may be much more modest, but understanding the potential will allow you to compare ideas with one another. 

Let’s combine these tools with the decision categories:

• Routines: Use tools with minimal energy consumption. You might be able to avoid making decisions at all and automate the process instead.

• Tactics: You can try to delegate tactical decisions.

• Strategy: The maximum energy expenditure should be on this group. Spend your time and energy on evaluating the potential of alternatives, if necessary, and delegating individual evaluation operations to specialists.

Determining Goals And Assessing Progress

Once you’ve made your decision, don’t waste energy thinking about all the “What ifs?” What helps me with this is to identify my goals and points of control. When planning strategic initiatives for my business, for example, I first identify the points with the greatest uncertainty and the approximate duration of time it will take to verify them. Knowing the expected duration of each of the stages of the decision makes it easier for me not to dwell on whether the next checkpoint is going according to plan. Control points also help to assess the progress toward the goal and the expenditure of funds. Identify control points at the moment of making a decision. 

I believe the problem of choice can be illustrated by an old short story about a donkey: The donkey was standing between two bales of hay, but it starved because it had so much trouble deciding which haystack to eat. Keep in mind that, as a leader, sometimes it’s easier to be wrong a few times and find the right solution than not to look at all.

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