Bernie was struggling to decide whether to hire a contractor to beef up the performance of one of his teams. He had two teams were working on different aspects of his main project. The plan was that they would both complete their tasks at the same time so that the whole project would be ready to launch on D-day. The problem was that one team was behind schedule.
It was not the team’s fault. It was simply that their task had turned out to be more time-consuming and challenging than had been predicted. The issue was that getting them up to speed by hiring a contractor would mean that Bernie would exceed his budget.
Bernie was trying to balance the cost of exceeding his production budget with the cost of failing to deliver his project on time.
How knowing the science of doubt will help you
Research carried out at Universities in Eindhoven, Amsterdam, and Berkeley shows that having to make decisions of this nature produces considerable levels of doubt and regret. In six sets of studies, sample size 2,268, researchers found that “doubts arising after a decision i.e. when people start questioning whether they made the right decision, intensify regret by increasing feelings of blame for having made a poor choice.”
It is the feeling of doubt both before and after making important decisions that leads many people to freeze and try to avoid making any decisions. But once you know that such feelings of doubt are a perfectly normal part of the human experience it behooves the good leader to find a way to manage such doubts.
Bernie’s decision formula
Good leaders recognize that feeling doubtful when making important decisions are perfectly normal. But they make a conscious effort to use the feeling of doubt in a positive way. They use the energy from their doubtful feelings to make themselves weigh the consequences of their alternative options.
When weighing his alternatives Bernie’s main consideration was the effect that meeting the delivery timetable would have on the business’s overall profitability. The questions he asked himself were:
- “If I deliver on time will it ensure that the business reaches its turnover and profit targets for the year?”
- “If I fail to deliver on time will it have serious consequences for the business’s profitability?”
- “To what extent will exceeding my budget by $x.xxx dent the overall profitability of the business?”
Bernie took these three questions to the Director of his division so that he could understand the consequences of his decision within the bigger picture of the business as a whole.
Takeaways from this story
- Doubt is a normal part of making decisions.
- The feelings of doubt can freeze your ability to make decisions. But the feeling can also be used to energize you to make a thorough investigation of your options before making your decision.
- Once you have worked out your possible options it’s a good idea to talk them over with someone else who can help you to review those options within the scenario of the business as a whole.
This post was previously published on LEADERSHIPPSYCHOLOGY.SUBSTACK.COM.
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