Archive: A Reputation for Decision-making — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

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You may not think about it on a daily basis, but your life is filled with decisions, both large and small. You decide when to get up, what to eat, where you work, who you befriend and who you marry. Unfortunately, when it comes to work, we often spend a lot of our time avoiding important decisions. There are many reasons for this, but your lack of decision-making abilities can directly effect your overall reputation and your chances for success.

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Why is it so easy to avoid making decisions? Simply because, by avoiding decisions we think we are avoiding failure. If we never choose one project over another, we never have to explain why a project failed. If we never write the book, we don’t have to explain why it wasn’t better. We risk nothing because we never make even the simplest decisions. Of course, I am sure you can already see the fallacy behind the concept. If you fail to make any decisions, you are risking your entire job at a very fundamental level.

Failing to make decisions can reduce your productivity to nearly zero as you waffle between one choice and another. You spend so much time thinking about your decisions that you never get anything done. The term “analysis paralysis” is often applied in these cases. You continue gathering more and more data, in hopes of making a decision, but all that data does is make your choice less clear. Like a dog, you chase your tail around and around without ever catching it. I see this frequently in technology workers and their corporate departments. They want to make the “perfect choice”, but the simple fact is, there is no such thing. We can only make the best choice of a computer, printer or digital camera in the present. Sure, a newer, better model might come out tomorrow, but if you are constantly waiting for the “next big thing” you will find yourself waiting forever.

The biggest danger in avoiding decisions is that your peers and your boss will eventually start making decisions for you. They will refuse to have their productivity stunted by your lack of decisions. Then you will be saddled with decisions you might otherwise have avoided. In this case, your attempts to avoid a bad decision will place you in exactly the position you most dreaded. As I mentioned in my column a few weeks ago, you can either “do” or “have something done to you.” Failing to make a decision abdicates your role and allows others to do with you as they wish.

You might not think of it, but your inability to make decisions effects far more than just you. No matter where you work, there are those around you who depend on your decisions. They are waiting on an answer so they can continue with their own work. Failing to make important decisions leaves them in a bad position with their management and their peers. If they are constantly telling their boss that they are waiting on information from you, their boss may come to think that their worker simply isn’t doing their job. While it may become clear, after a while, that you are the source of the information bottleneck, you will have already damaged someone else’s reputation with their manager. While you might eventually be fired for your inaction, chances are, you will also be risking the jobs and careers of those around you.

If you want to move your career forward, you need to build a reputation for decision-making. This doesn’t mean you rush into decisions without considerable thought, only that you make the best decisions you can, based on the best information you have today. Sure there will be failures and decisions that don’t work out as you plan, but this is the very nature of the beast. We often have to make decisions without having all the information. Waiting for every last bit of information so you can make the “perfect” decision will mean that you are waiting for a very long time. Meanwhile, life and business will pass you by, work will come and go and you will eventually be left at the side of the business road, wondering what happened to your career.


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