Do you suffer from distracted decision-making?

  • Article
  • 16 June 2021

Do you second guess your decisions?

Do you make decisions quickly, then change them frequently?

Or do you delay, defer, or just plain avoid making decisions?

If so, you may suffer from distracted decision-making.

Never heard of this? You may not have. It is a term that I made up. Yes, really! I searched for this term on Google and found all kinds of references to distracted   ‘something’, but not decision making.

Distracted decision making is akin to distracted driving. You’ve got one hand on the steering wheel (your decision) and the other on your phone – texting (anything other   than the decision).

When you’re distracted, your focus is not on the matter at hand. As a result, the activity may end poorly.  As a leader, being distracted when   making decisions could have severe repercussions.

How does distracted decision-making show up?

It can take many forms as noted below.

1.    Not paying sufficient attention

You have got a million things to do, and now someone asks you for a decision.

You know that you are not really paying attention when you hear what the individual is saying (or at least see their lips moving). Your mind is occupied with other things, such as the approaching project deadline, the latest change in management, or how the kids are doing their first day of school. You nod politely and mutter some platitudes. You’re not sure what the person has said or asked, but you know it has something to do with the team’s budget.

As a leader, not paying attention is a cardinal sin.

2.    Taking short cuts

Most things, to do them well, require time and attention – time to prepare, consideration of the alternatives, formulation of recommendations, and ultimately, a decision. Leaders may take short cuts in the process by relying on high level summaries or report-backs from others, instead of reviewing ALL the necessary details that result in an educated decision. The risk in relying on others to relay the salient points is that the report back may not be complete, or the individual may have misinterpreted something. Taking short cuts can be detrimental to results.

3.    Not making decisions

Not making decisions may be an indication of distracted decision making. With too many ‘bright shiny objects to focus on’ the leader may lose track of the decisions that are    needed to be made, become paralyzed, and then just not make them.

Most decisions have a finite timeline. When decisions are taking too long, they may hold things up.

4.    Decisions are made too quickly

Decisions made in haste may be due to being distracted. This is the opposite to #3 above where the leader just wants to keep moving forward and the decision is one thing standing in the way. Making the decision quickly, based on gut feel or little information, is preferable to not continuing to progress. Or it may be that the leader just wants to get the decision off the ‘To-Do’ list.

Hasty decision making may create momentum, but that might not be what is needed.

5.    Deferring decisions to others

Leaders who don’t feel that they have the right amount of information or are focused on other things, may ask others to make decisions. At times, this may be the right strategy; other times it may be inappropriate. The person that the decision was delegated to may not have the authority to make the decision or may not be comfortable doing   so. It creates an awkward situation for the person being delegated to.

Delegation is a way to transfer responsibility to someone else. Ensure that the person that you delegate to is prepared and has the information required to make a competent decision.

6.    Frequently changing the decision

A sure sign of distraction is frequently changing the decision. Individuals perceive this as the leader being unsure. The pitfalls of this are that team members do not know which way to go, creating immobility. It confuses people and reduces the leader’s credibility and overall team productivity.

Consider the impact of changing decisions on the team.

How can you combat distraction in decision-making?

  1. Prepare – take the time to prepare to make the Don’t make decisions in the heat of the moment, only to reconsider them later, and realize you’ve made a mistake. It’s not impossible to change decisions, but doing it too frequently erodes your team’s confidence in you.
  2. Be fully present when making decisions. Pay attention to what is happening. gather the facts, and don’t be distracted by the ‘bright shiny objects’ that may be more attractive, but ultimately less rewarding.
  3. Understand the implications of not making or delaying the decision or making the decision too Sometimes delaying a decision is a good strategy, but often it is not, as opportunities will be lost. Research has found that making a decision is often more important than making the wrong one.
  4. Acknowledge that making decisions is part of your job and take the time to focus on them. Focusing on one thing at a time, rather than multiple things, ensures that you are giving your full attention to the task at hand.
  5. If distraction is caused by stress, do the things that are necessary to reduce stress – eat well, exercise, and reduce or eliminate stimulant consumption.
  6. Know when it is appropriate to seek support from others.

Do you suffer from distracted decision making? What are the things that you do to combat it?

Dr. Wilma Slenders PhD, PCC

Dr. Wilma Slenders is a renowned change management facilitator, leadership coach, and strategic advisor for organizations of all sizes and industries. Her insights come from over 20 years of hands-on experience and thousands of hours of teaching, consulting on, planning, and executing long-term professional leadership strategies and organizational strategies.

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