How Your Decision Making Skills Can Make or Break You

The way you make decisions determines your career trajectory, and if you want to rise high, you must aim for a leader-like style.

I always thought of myself as a decisive person. But after reading Julia Tang Peters’ book Pivot Points: Five Decisions Every Successful Leader Must Make, I realize that there is more to decision-making than just the act itself. Rather, it’s the way we make decisions that predicts how far we go in our careers. There are, in fact, four types of decision-makers one finds in the workplace:

Leaders

This decision-making process places high importance on gathering information and gaining the support of other people affected by the decision. Leaders hold themselves accountable for their decisions even in the face of catastrophic setbacks. They continuously reach for bold and ingenious solutions, which energizes them and keeps them and their supporters committed.

Wanderers

Wanderers offer imaginative ideas and speak with passion about them, making them attractive to teams requiring innovative thinkers. They think carefully about how an idea looks and feels, as well as its functions and benefits. The problem with wanderers is that they don’t consider the practical implications of decisions the way leaders do, and they forget that great thinkers also need to be great doers. Wanderers do not hold themselves accountable for action and progress, so their decisions don’t produce pivotal outcomes.

Managers

Managers are the opposite extreme. They tend to make decisions based on time rather than the quality of the idea. Managers simply want to get today’s job done fast, without regard to big picture strategy or necessary long-term improvements. While leadership decisions elevate the idea or purpose of work, standards, and performance, management decisions get the basics done. While some of these decisions are essential, too many of them result in an underachieving organization that’s unable to recruit and retain the best talent.

Clock Punchers

Clock punchers don’t stray from their comfort zone, and their decisions are focused around getting through the work day as easily as possible. They are risk and stress-averse and will always take the easy way out, avoiding personal accountability for outcomes and lobbying for maintaining the status quo. As Tang Peters puts it:

“Clock punching behavior is like being a renter versus a homeowner. When there are problems, renters call the property owner and owners fix the problem. When renters find a better deal, they simply move, while owners juggle a complex equation that includes financial and emotional investments. When renting, one invests little effort and does just enough to meet his or her needs.”

At the beginning of a career just out of college, it’s more appropriate to be a clock puncher, and as a new supervisor, you might survive quite nicely as a wanderer or a manager. But if you want to continue to be perceived as a top performer and your goal is to get promoted into executive management, you’ll want to get in the habit of investing more in your decisions.

Take the time to become informed about issues within your jurisdiction, and then jump in with both feet at decision-making time. Even if you’re skilled in persuading others to your side, sometimes your decisions will be difficult or unpopular. But if they are for the greater good, you’ll make them anyway. If a risk goes bad, you’ll take responsibility and put the pieces back together as best you can. These are the hallmarks of a true leader.

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Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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