Decision-making and the Dark Matter of Knowing.
As a leader, you know sometimes decision-making can be difficult. The reason making decisions can be difficult is because very often, we know there’s a logical, rational way we’re supposed to approach a choice, a way that can be diagrammed and outlined with absolute logic.
And then there are those moments when we make a decision based purely on gut instinct.
Let me tell you about my daughter and me.
For about three years, my daughter didn’t speak to me. Now, as you can imagine that was a pretty difficult time. You don’t need the details other than to know that she has asked me for something that I couldn’t say “yes” to. I do need to share that saying “no” was extremely difficult for me. I battled internally, because on the surface the logical response was to agree. After all, this is my daughter. I love her. I wanted her in my life. I wanted to be there for her. I wanted things to be good between us. But, instinctively at that gut level, I knew I had to say no.
The result was that my daughter was really hurt and for reasons that made perfect sense to her at the time, she cut me out of her life and didn’t speak to me for three whole years. During those years I spent a lot of time and a lot of energy in self-doubt, wondering if I’d made a mistake in following my gut. I asked myself over and over if I had made the right decision. Now perhaps you would have made a different decision; however, saying “no” to my beloved daughter was the one I felt I had to make and therefore I would have to live with the consequences of the decision. (Just so you know, the main reason people are terrible at making decisions is because they have to live with the consequences of their decisions. I can tell you that I doubted my decision every single day and sometimes I felt like the consequences of that decision were almost unbearable.)
Now think about a time (it could be right now) when your company/organization was doing really well and things were going great. Now I’m going to assume that you are a leader, and as a leader, you’d kind of like to take credit for your outstanding organization and team’s results. However, if you are completely honest, you may admit the mantle for the company’s success doesn’t rest on your shoulders alone. In fact, it may have nothing or at least very little to do with you. But you may not be sure what is driving the success.
When we (my team and I) are invited in to work with and elevate the most successful teams in an organization, invariably, we find that what makes a team or for that matter an individual excel is not what you would expect. Most often what makes a team (or a person) excel are invisible factors that no one has considered.
In fact, we’ve found that as much as 50% of what makes a team or a leader is successful comes down to these invisible factors. Whatever it is that drives the success behind your teams and leaders is likely to be pretty much hidden from you — not because you aren’t capable of seeing it but because you have never been given the lenses that would allow you to see it. It’s essentially invisible to you.
Back in the 1970s, the scientific community felt like they had a pretty good grasp of what made up our universe. Around that same time, the S & P 500 would have told you they had a pretty good handle on what makes up the value of an organization. Let’s fast forward to today. Now the scientific community tells us that the very thing they thought made up the universe, natural matter, actually makes up only about 4% of the universe. The other 96% is either dark matter or dark energy, things that were previously completely invisible to us. Meanwhile the S & P 500 will now say that more than 80% of the value of the companies on the SMP 500 is held in intangible assets. The very things that cannot be seen!
So often, we make decisions based on what is in front of us as if the visual, the tangible, is the full picture. But the truth is that what can be seen is only a fraction of the picture. The value of your organization and what makes for the great leaders and teams inside it are like the iceberg. Everything below the surface is what’s actually driving the outcomes (good or bad). And when it comes to decision-making more specifically making great decisions, we better be willing to look at what’s actually below the surface.
Which brings me back to my daughter. After three years with zero contact, I got a message on my answering service. I checked the time and it came in about 4:00 am on my office number. When I listened to it, I recognized my daughter’s voice, but for some reason it was garbled and not very clear. And she hadn’t left a callback number. So I decided to reach out to a family member. I said, “I know you can’t give me her number. I don’t expect that, but could you at least let her know that I got her message, and that I would like to speak to her?”
About a week later, the phone rang and it was that voice I had missed with all my heart. We didn’t speak for too long, however I asked her what had changed. What she told me was the classic invisible factor, the thing we can’t see and can’t predict. The mysterious invisible factor that brought my daughter, son in law and three grandchildren back into my life was Christina Aguilera. My daughter told me that she had been listening to the song “Hurt,” in which Christina was blaming her father for everything, and my daughter said that as she listened to that song, something dissolved, and she called me and asked if we could start our relationship again.
After three years of not knowing whether I had made the right decision or the wrong decision, but knowing I had made the decision that was true for me at a gut level, my daughter returned to my life. As leaders, we are constantly faced with logical, rational things to do, things that logically make sense, while at a gut, heart, and soul level we “know’” something is off. When it comes to decision-making, yes, you can draw out your chart of positives and negatives, and look at both sides of those things, but the truth is, that as a leader, you know what the answer is. You know where the truth lies
It’s what is invisible.
It’s what is as intangible as the chords of a song.
It’s the dark matter of your own knowing.