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Wonder Woman Diana Prince finds herself in the black-and-white predicament of a World War where there are either good guys or bad guys. Throughout the movie, Prince learns the ways of those powerful enough to declare and carry out war. Our favorite heroine concludes that the men in charge are often quick to make decisions and reach conclusions. They prefer the fast route of linear decision-making. Yet, linear decision-making tends to create a black-and-white value system. In Wonder Woman, that type of value system puts people in two boxes: good guys and bad guys.
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What Prince discovers is that the right decisions, particularly the big ones, are rife with gray areas. By the end of the movie, her exposure to the world gave her far more dynamic perspective when she concludes, “There is darkness and light in each of us.” Decisions that bring about change, the kind of change that disrupts the status quo, requires an approach that considers the people impacted, not just the choice that needs to be made. As you continue to hone your decision-making acumen, consider these three perspectives.
Create a toolkit where a one-size approach to decision-making does not fit all.
Lisa Reeves, SVP of product at Zenefits, is a serial entrepreneur, investor and corporate executive. One of the keys to Reeves’ success is her ambidextrous approach to decision-making. “Both linear and non-linear decisions are valuable and I have a toolkit for how and when to apply both,” says Reeves. Non-linear decisions can be messy and time-consuming. Reeves combats potential distractions by keeping the end-game and key objectives in the forefront.
At GridCraft, Reeves’s big data company she sold to Workday in 2015, she and her co-founders followed the popular MVP (minimal viable product) approach popular with high-growth tech startups whereby products are tested in the market and honed based on user feedback. Keeping the total customer experience at the forefront, diverse market feedback was used for dynamic decision-making that informed the product roadmap, implementation and go-to-market strategies.
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Reeves’ advice for making decisions that matter: Beware of your blind spots. “Periodically question a simple A-to-B approach for repetitive decisions — you could be disrupted. For example, when evaluating new markets, and a banker presents a company that doesn’t obviously fit into your company’s growth strategy and you quickly dismiss it. It’s those kinds of decisions that enabled Amazon to completely upset the market,” Reeves says.
Cultivate an all-hands-on-deck approach to change-making decisions.
Accountants follow data and often view decisions in a straightforward Point A to Point B methodology. But, Dawn W. Brolin, CEO of Powerful Accounting, is also a visionary business leader who sees opportunity where typical data points don’t apply. Instead, she employs long-term thinking mixed with creative solutions to maximize her current offers while extending her firm’s core competencies into new market offerings.
When considering the future of her company, Brolin knew she had to look beyond the obvious trajectory. “I didn’t want to be a traditional accounting firm. I wanted to make a move to broaden our services,” says Brolin. Rather than sticking with the typical numbers-only approach often employed in her industry, she shifted her decision-making approach, something she believes every small business owner must be willing to do, and evaluated her team’s current work, firm processes, margins and customer base. The result? She opened a new office to serve a niche market and expanded her staff to include talent across multiple geographies.
Brolin’s advice for making decisions that matter: During times of high-stakes decisions, choose the team-based approach. “On many occasions over the last 20 years, I have been tempted to make and carry out a decision on my own in an effort to protect my staff. But, that has caused the team even more stress 100 percent of the time. Everyone wants to be part of a successful project and see it through together,” Brolin says.
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Adopt the mindset that considers decisions in relation to people and impact.
One of the biggest turning points in my life was learning about the work of Carol Gilligan. Gilligan’s seminal work in value-based decision-making set the stage for much of feminist leadership theory. After serving as a research assistant to Lawrence Kohlberg in his study of moral development during her PhD studies at Harvard University, Gilligan was struck by two important factors: All of the participants in Kohlberg’s famous work were white men and the scholar found that the female approach to moral decisions was inferior to men. Gilligan conducted the same study using female participants and found that women are relational in their value-based decision-making.
My advice for making decisions that matter: Use the time you have to consider the impact. When facing an important decision, women consider the impact on stakeholders and competing trends and initiatives. Pressure cooker decisions can be daunting, particularly when all eyes are on you. These types of scenarios tend to be dynamic with multiple dimensions. Considering the impact on key stakeholders as well as potential implications to other areas of investment will lead to better decisions in the long run.