5 Secrets To Effective Decision Making

“Laura,” a senior exec working to build leadership throughout her team, looked up from her salad and confided.

“Karin, the truth is I have so many things going on in any given day, I may not remember the exact decision I made if it was a trivial matter, and I may not even remember exactly what I said about something important. But what I DO KNOW is what I WOULD HAVE SAID in any given circumstance. My values guide my decision-making, so the answer would always be the same.

If someone tries to twist my words, I just think “Is that something I could have possibly said?” If the answer is no, I move on. At the end of the day, if you are leading consistently, you really don’t have to remember that much.”


5 Secrets to Effective Decision Making

Winning Well managers know that like everything else that matters, decision-making is always an AND game of Confidence AND Humility, Results AND relationships. Winning Well leaders know that making the right decisions is clearly only the beginning, it’s also about building decision making competency throughout your team.

1. Be Crystal Clear on Your Values.

Taking some time to really consider your values and operating principles will save a lot of time-consuming waffling and hand wringing down the line. Write down your leadership credo, that way when the decisions get tough, you’ve got the scaffolding already in place.

2. Insist that people on your team make decisions they should make.

You use energy to make decisions. The more decisions you make in a day, the more difficult it becomes to make the next one. Stop making decisions you don’t need to make, and invest in helping your team build their decision making muscles. Ask great strategic questions. Be sure your team understands your values and any big rules. Most importantly, if you empower them to make the decision, don’t freak out when they make the wrong one. Take a deep breath and then work to understand the thought process, so the next decision they make will be less wacky.

3. Make low-risk decisions quickly.

If the consequences are minimal, make decisions quickly and move on. Save your 3 am worry for decisions that matter.

4. Make decisions once

This is an old and essential productivity tool. Look at an email once, then either delete it, act on it, schedule it for future action, put it in a file related to its project, or put it in a “maybe read later.”

5. Include the right players.

Before making any major decision ask yourself, “Who really needs to be involved in this and why?” Stakeholder, yes, but resist the urge to over-include.

Of course, you can follow these guidelines and still screw it up. Sometimes I do too. When that happens, don’t obsess, but do take a moment to reflect and take that learning with you for the next time.

Posted in Winning Well and tagged , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Thanks for the sound advice Karin. I particularly like the fact that your first secret is, “Be crystal clear on your values”. I suppose that it’s a case of “if you start right it will end right.” If I could possibly add my advice, it would be that every time you have to make a decision, that you put yourself in such a position that the decision you have to make are an informed decision, not based on ones’ whims or moods. Gather all the facts (do so quickly, with urgency and intent, decide, and like you said, make decisions once.

  2. I love your article, Karin and especially how to involve our teams in our decision-making: “invest in helping your team build their decision making muscles.” Not only will involving others help them develop stronger decision-making skills but it will also cultivate buy-in.

    I once worked with someone who kept changing their mind after every decision they made. It was so confusing and brought me to the point of never taking any of their decisions seriously.

    Thanks Karin!

  3. I love how with just the short phrase, “…looked up from her salad and confided:” you created an almost vivid story setting with no frilly exposition. So efficient. You could write super bowl stuff with those chops. But how did it end? Did she finish the salad? Did she like it? 😉

  4. I like to ask for input. “What do you recommend” goes a long way to engaging others. When they don’t have an immediate answer it’s also important to avoid temptation and fill the silence but let them find their words and share their insight.

    Great example from your lunchtime conversation. Values in motion!

    ~ Alli

    • Alli,
      Thanks so much much! That’s a great technique. In our book David and I also talk about what to do if someone responds to “I don’t know” with “what would you do if you did know?” In a gentle attempt to draw more creative thinking out.

  5. This sounds a lot like ‘personal branding’ for a leader…I’m working with a senior executive right now and establishing her brand is very important to her at this point in her career.

    As she and I have discussed this, qualities like collaborative, transparency, and straight-shooting have all surfaced. In the same way, anyone in a leadership position needs to truly understand their brand—what they stand for.

    Great article, Karin!

  6. Karin,

    Your second point stood out for me. I have been working with a leader who had adopted the Heroic Model of Leadership. She led the way with all the answers, creating a culture in which empowerment and accountability were not fostered. Investing in her team’s decision making muscle and trusting their decision making abilities has been hard work. What she’s noticing though is that her team is rising to the occasion with more engagement and collaboration.

  7. Hi Karin,
    Thanks for this inspiring post and sharing the secrets to effective decision making. I especially like Secret #2: “Insist that people on your team make decisions they should make.”

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