Excessive Caution

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How do you make decisions?  Excessive caution can be as destructive to businesses as impulsivity.  The mantra for the cautious leader is “My next decision will be my last.” The problem with this line of thinking is twofold: first it assumes that a catastrophe is forthcoming and secondly it assumes that your next decision will be poor and unrecoverable.  The belief is the issue as much as your expectation from the decision.

Excessively cautious leaders tend to have the following characteristics:

1.) Constant Opinion Seeking:  At your best, you will throughly analyze a set of options and make a decision.  If you continually seek a second, third or even a fourth opinion, then you have a problem.  Trust yourself.

2.) Obsession Of What Could Go Wrong:  If you continue to worry about the possible negative outcomes, this will paralyze you for proper analysis and decision making.  Instead consider the worst case scenario AND consider the best case scenario.  This is also called “bookending” your decisions.  The outcome of your decision will fall somewhere on that spectrum.

3.) Not Every Decision Has Serious Consequences:  Pursuing proper analysis is not a bad thing unless you assume catastrophe.  Consider a past decision that did not go well – were you able to recover? Typically the answer to that questions is “Yes.”

4.) You Micro-Manage:  Your concern about poor decision making is passed along to your team and results in their reduction of autonomy.  Think about the impact of your excessive caution.

In the book “Decisive” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, a framework for decision making is outlined.  The acronym: W.R.A.P is presented as a framework for exceptional decision making.

Widen Your Options:  Typically, we make a decision based on a binary approach. (Either Or) Instead, consider adding the third or fourth option to improve decision making results.  Additionally, the Health’s encourage us to consider the concept of ‘opportunity cost’ when making a decision.

For example: Option 1) Go on vacation Option 2) Don’t go on vacation and save the $4,000.  Option 1 has an opportunity cost associated with the decision of $4,000.

Another suggestion is to find someone else who has solved your problem to assist you with the decision.  This increases the probability that your next decision could be your best.

Reality-Test Your Assumptions:  It is easy to assume the intentions of others are negative.  To change this cycle, the Heath’s suggest “Assume Positive Intent” in others.  In my meetings, I will often state “Assume Goodwill.” The words do not matter. The impact of the belief and the behavior is what does.  Imagine if you took the approach of positive goodwill when making decisions.

Attain Distance Before Deciding: Give yourself permission to step away from analysis before you make that decision.  Perhaps a 2 week break would give your brain the rest it needs to synthesize the data before coming to a conclusion.   “Decisive” recommends answering the question – “What would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?”

Think about your best friend. Clearly you want their very best.  It makes sense that the advice you give your best friend would apply to you.

Prepare To Be Wrong: It is ok if you are wrong. Life and leadership is a process.  The goal is not always to be right, it is to improve over time.  We have traded the finality of data and certainty for the enjoyment of growth and progress.  You will make decisions that could be improved upon.  I would change the word “Wrong” and replace it with “Challenged.”