The Critical Leadership Quality to Improve Your Decision Making Process

They say the sign of a good leader is decisiveness. The ability to go with a gut instinct, no matter what the outcome, as long as they follow through with conviction.

“If you’re still waiting for the right moment to jump, it’ll never come.” I heard these words echoing in my head as my toes curled over the jagged rocks at the edge of a very long drop into a black pool of water below. Despite having watched countless others attempt this exact same feat, all of them landing safely in the clearly-deep-enough lagoon, a part of me was capitalizing on fear to keep me from following them. The fear that I might clip the edge of the cliff on the way down, crack open my skull on the rocks jutting out from the cliff-face, or perhaps (even worse) land embarrassingly and painfully belly-flop style in front of the myriad onlookers gathered at the pool’s edge.

They say the sign of a good leader is decisiveness. The ability to go with a gut instinct, no matter what the outcome, as long as they follow through with conviction.

Having to contend with these decisions in real-time isn’t always just intuition. It’s often behavior that requires practice, patience, and interestingly enough, compassion. That last bit — compassion — isn’t a word you hear often in the vocabulary of most business environments. Probably because it feels like a weakness rather than a strength — especially in negotiating. But effective leaders know this is an important quality — especially when it comes to decision-making.

Back at the cliff, I was caught between two equally powerful instincts. On the one hand, that voice saying “don’t do it… you might die” and the other saying “don’t miss out… you might regret it”.

Listening to one felt like railroading the other, which left me with a conundrum — could I balance these voices? Could I find some middle ground that would lead to a fulfilling experience without feeling like I had turned my back on an important part of me? For lots of people, myself included, gut instincts are locked in a fierce battle with other parts of our anatomy. Mostly, as it turns out, our own brains.

When we set lofty goals for ourselves, especially around the new year, we resolve to follow through because we believe it will lead to something better — leaving a bad job, starting a new one, ending or entering a relationship, working out, starting a business, etc. When we inevitably fail to follow through with some (or all of them), we blame laziness or ineptitude. But the challenge most of us face in fulfilling these promises often have more to do with the fear of actually following through with them. How do we overcome the natural anxiety and fear of taking on new challenges to fulfill our own expectations?

The first step is to acknowledge that dissenting voice. Let it know that you understand it wants to protect you from what seems like a difficult, foolish or painful decision. Acknowledgment gives it the recognition it seeks, while giving you the room to point out the inaction it often causes as being just as or more devastating, frightening or damaging.

The part of me that didn’t want to jump was following through with a noble endeavor — keeping me alive. I needed to stop and recognize that. Thank it for doing it’s job so diligently. Showing it compassion and understanding gave me a little room to open the door to the idea of jumping. Getting both parts on board with exploring the option made taking that leap — figuratively and literally — a real possibility.

This process might be referred to as risk assessment or risk management — I call it Compassionate Self-Negotiation because it requires a certain amount of understanding and self-knowledge to get those parts or voices within yourself to trust you.

As I watched the water rush up to meet my feet, I remember feeling that dissenting voice get a little less aggressive — still there — but having a little fun too. The freedom to take this risk wholeheartedly, with a certain conviction, made the experience incredibly fulfilling and much more beautiful.

This coming year, consider resolving to be more compassionate. Compassionate to that voice that holds you back from reaching your potential (and for that matter, to others who may disagree with you). Recognizing the intentions that voice has will give you the opportunity to set those fears aside long enough to let you experience the possibilities of those decisions. And that glimpse may be enough to lead to more fulfilling, and beautiful experiences beyond it.

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