Are you suffering from decision making fatigue as a leader?

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A few years ago, I read an article that said that the average adult makes more than 35,000 decisions per day! While some of these might be relatively quick ones like, “will I go to the gym this morning?”, “should I take lunch or buy lunch?”, or “have I got time to put a quick load of washing on before my next Zoom call?”, other decisions might not be so simple.  

We make over 2,000 decisions per hour (assuming we’re not making any in our sleep!). 

How do we do that? More importantly, and in the context of being a people or business leader, with all the other tasks on your plate, how can you possibly manage to squeeze around 20,000 decisions into a regular work day? 

I’m certainly not a mathematician, but apparently you should have made 33 decisions since you started reading this post!  

As a leader I remember the types of decisions I used to have to make regularly, around people, communications, meetings, customer queries, pricing models, stakeholder or investor concerns, hiring plans, and IT challenges, just to name a few. But I also remember an advisor once asking me what my decision-making style was. I must have winged my response (since I honestly had no idea) with something along the lines of, “it depends on the situation”. 

It turns out that my response at the time wasn’t as vague as I thought it had been. 

Have you ever stopped to think about how many decisions you regularly make as a leader?

What your decision-making style is, or whether (perhaps without even realising it) you may in fact be suffering from decision-making fatigue – when after making several decisions your ability to make more decisions throughout the course of a day becomes worse.  

Your decision-making style can be described as how you typically react when faced with a choice.

Do you make a decision alone? Do you consult others? Do you go with your gut? Perhaps you over analyse? Maybe you even flip a coin? (Hopefully not in a professional setting!) 

There are four so-called decision-making styles which can certainly be applied to the context of leadership. But before delving into the different styles, think about whether you are more oriented toward technical concerns, or social concerns; and whether you have a high tolerance for ambiguity and a low need for structure, or a low tolerance for ambiguity and therefore a high need for structure. 

In essence, analytical decision makers solve problems by analysis, planning and forecasting; behavioural decision makers solve problems through people; conceptual decision makers solve problems by exploring new options, forming new strategies, being creative, and taking risks; while directive decision makers solve problems by applying operational objectives in a systematic and efficient manner. 

Let’s now explore these in more detail. 

Are you an analytical decision maker? 

If you need to weigh up all the facts, and you believe that the best decisions take time, then you certainly are! Another common trait of analytical decision makers is a passion or tendency for compiling data and knowing the exact numbers before taking any formal action. You will typically have a high tolerance for ambiguity and be very adaptable.  

One of the downsides to analytical decision making is that by spending too much time collating information, you may find yourself unable to make the decision so you might want to think about setting a time limit on the fact-finding process.  Analytical decision-making can also be challenging if you find yourself having to make a decision on the spot or if there isn’t sufficient data available, at which point you may need to go with your gut. 

Are you a behavioural decision maker? 

The answer is definitely yes if the opinions, reactions, and input of others is important to you. Do you typically consider the impact a decision will have on your employees – especially when it comes to the long–term success of your team? Team harmony is also important to you and you prefer to make decisions that don’t cause a stir. You will usually ask your team members what they think or how they feel about a potential decision before formalising anything. 

As a self-confessed behavioural decision maker (at least for the most part), I can attest to the fact that sometimes making decisions which are based on feelings and wanting everyone on board can drag the process out unnecessarily. Having said that, your team members will respect you for taking their opinions into account and in a team setting, leaders demonstrating a behavioural decision-making style are commonly described as the heart of the business or the glue keeping everyone together. 

Are you a conceptual decision maker? 

As the term might imply, this decision-making style is typically demonstrated by creative, innovative, or big picture thinkers. You’re probably not a fan of having to make on-the-spot decisions for the short term and would rather spend time planning far ahead when making decisions for your team or the business even if this process may seem impractical to those around you. 

Conceptual decision-making is often referred to as visionary decision-making and is best suited to those leaders with ‘big ideas’. If you actually thrive when surrounded by uncertainty, don’t feel pressured to find an immediate answer to a problem, and can typically consider multiple possible outcomes, then you can probably call yourself a conceptual decision maker. 

Are you a directive decision maker? 

Do you thrive in situations when a decision must be made quickly? Or to be a bit blunter, do you prefer to take control when making a decision and see no real need in seeking input from others? If so, it’s safe to say you’re a directive decision maker, but just be mindful that your team members might also view you as being too authoritative, inflexible, and perhaps even difficult to work with. 

Be careful not to be wrongly accused of being a manipulator or having a tendency for a “my way or the highway” approach to making choices that will impact the team. Whilst you may well have a low tolerance for ambiguity or become easily frustrated when other people dwell on decisions, and whilst you may prefer to take every decision into your own hands, you certainly don’t want to come across as impulsive. It’s best to ensure your directive style highlights your rationality and that you are, in fact, making decisions based on your own knowledge and experience. 

Most leaders will probably find that there’s no such thing as a one size fits all approach to decision-making.  

You typically wouldn’t just pick one and stick to it, since every situation is different. Sure, there might be times when it makes sense to make a quick decision on your own. In other situations, for the sake of the team and the culture, you might be better off soliciting the feedback and opinions of your team members. From time to time you might have an opportunity to think more long-term or ‘big picture’ or maybe even have the chance to bury yourself in spreadsheets diving deep into the data before formulating your decision.

Just be careful not to end up with a case of analysis paralysis. 

Remember, however, that if as a leader you’re making 20,000 decisions in a day, decision making fatigue can easily set in. It’s important to be aware of the tell-tale signs such as brain fog, the urge to procrastinate, or generally feeling drained as the day progresses. 

hellomonday provides coaching and support to leaders regardless of their decision-making style, prioritising development initiatives that result in long-term sustained learning and change; and reinforcing habits through curated learning and impactful coaching. 

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