Lorenz on Leadership - The art of objective decision-making

  • Published
  • By Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz
  • Commander, Air Education and Training Command
Making decisions is something we all do each and every day. Most decisions are made without much thought, almost unconsciously and, in many cases, automatically. 

Others, however, are decisions that involve time and thought, and can impact more than just ourselves. These are the decisions where the process is an art -- it defines who we are as leaders. 

Saying this isn't a stretch. As leaders, we do things in order to create a desired effect. Making the "best" decision hits at the core of creating that effect and, in turn, is an essential aspect of being an effective leader. 

Now, these aren't decisions that involve "right versus wrong" -- or lying, cheating or stealing -- we must never compromise our integrity. 

In fact, most of these decisions involve "right versus right" and the decision may be different today than it was yesterday. This is what can make them so challenging. Let's take a moment to look at the elements involved in making the "best" decision. 

First, and foremost, effective decisions require objectivity. The old adage, "the more objective you are, the more effective you are," has never been more accurate or applicable than it is today. 

It can be tempting to look at decisions through the lens of a small straw. Effective leaders must step back and gain a much broader view; they must open their aperture. I've always advocated looking at issues and decisions from your boss's boss's viewpoint. This approach helps to open the aperture and maintain objectivity. 

In order to gain the broad, objective view, leaders must work to gather a complete picture of the situation. Some call this situational awareness; others call it a 360-degree view of the issue. 

In either case, that awareness involves considering all of the variables weighing into the decision, competing interests involved in the decision and potential consequences of the decision. The potential consequences must include possible second and third order consequences. 

Tough calls like these can involve individuals, organizations and issues beyond those initially thought. Weigh the consequences against unit missions and organizational goals. Investigate how the decision will move things forward in the near, mid and long term. 

This will provide the context for the decision and, although it will involve a lot of work, will result in the broadest view of the entire process. 

Lastly, tough decisions can be very emotional. Don't let emotion play into the decision-making process. Emotion only serves to cloud the issue and, potentially, can result in a decision where near-term happiness fades quickly into mid- and long-term unintended challenges. 

Leaders must look at decisions from the outside, unattached to the emotional influence from within. Leaders must rise above such distractions in order to maintain their objectivity. 

Leaders use decision making to define reality. Decisions made within context and with the benefit of situational awareness, will position future issues for success and establish tomorrow's realities for our subordinates, our bosses and, ultimately, our boss's boss. 

In the end, objectivity will ensure that decisions will result in the desired effect and will keep you and your organization headed in the "best" direction.