7 Tips for Developing High-Level Decision Making Skills – Master of Public Administration

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Successful managers, be they non-profit leaders or CEOs, have a valuable skill in common. They are generally good decision makers. Making the right decisions can truly make or break a person’s career. This is not to say that strong leaders have always made wise decisions. Just as any skill set is developed, so is decision making.

Good decision making requires access to a certain knowledge bases, and the ability to process that knowledge. Though “gut instincts” do sometimes play a role in making solid decisions, data should weigh as much as instinct. Below are 7 tips for developing high-level decision-making skills.

Thoroughly Analyze the Decision

When making an important decision, start by performing a situational analysis. Why must the decision be made and what would the impact be if it is not made? What research, data or supporting information is available to validate the decision?
Leaders are forced to deal with and analyze a great deal of information on a regular basis. In addition to considering raw data, successful managers rely on the knowledge that they have gathered through previous experiences to make informed decisions.
Weigh the costs and benefits of each decision. Making a pros vs. cons list might seem cliché, but it is actually a helpful tool to use when making an important decision, even if it is only created in the mind.

Consider Alternatives

When applicable, alternatives should be considered. Counter-factual thinking forces the brain to generate alternatives, which leads to better decision making. Try considering the decision from different points of view, taking into account how the decision will affect each person or entity involved.

Understand your Personal Decision-Making Style

Every person has their own unique decision-making style. Quick decisions are often made based on impulse, while taking a great deal of time to make a decision can indicate lack of confidence. Understanding one’s decision-making style can help a person avoid the temptations of impulsivity and negative thinking and make a rational and well thought-out decision. It might be necessary to set a specific time frame for making decisions, based on their value.

Develop Contingency Plans

Having a “Plan-B” in place is always wise. In reality, even the best leaders will make the occasional bad decision. It’s what happens next that defines them. Each choice should include a back-up plan (or possibly two or three).

Create Distance

Humans are naturally influenced by their thoughts and emotions, which can change from moment to moment. When making an important decision, great leaders think about how it will impact the future, five minutes, a year, or even ten years down the road. This sometimes requires taking some time to think.

Consult with Others

Especially when a decision will impact someone else, it is advisable to consult with others. By imagining how each decision will be viewed by those affected and what friends and family would think of a decision, it’s easier to make a choice that is wise.

When seeking counsel, it’s important to consider the source. The amount of feedback received is not as important as the quality. Great leaders seek diversity in their counsel and understand that considering another’s point of view does not mean acquiescing to demands. Discussing a decision with multiple people, just for the sake of creating volume will only confuse matters, so it’s important to seek out opinions that will add value to the decision-making process.

Understand that all Decisions are Not Equal

When it comes down to it, some decisions are easier to make than others. The amount of time that it takes to make a decision and how much effort is invested in the decision-making process should be based on its impact. In other words, if a decision will not lead to long-term consequences, the same amount of energy should not spent on it as one that will have lasting repercussions.
Minor decisions, such as what to have for lunch, will likely not have a long-term impact, so devoting excessive time to them is a waste of resources. When determining the importance of a decision, ask these questions:

    1. Will it affect other people?
    2. Does it impact the strategy of the organization I work for?
    3. Will it cost a significant amount of money?
    4. Am I ultimately responsible for the outcome of this decision, or will others share the responsibility?
    5. What will the course of action be, if a mistake is made?

Ultimately, a smart leader makes decisions based on whether it’s truly the right thing to do. Once a decision is made, it’s important to stand by that decision, if made for the right reasons. Sometimes, a decision must be made based on practical or ethical factors that simply cannot be disputed. Fortunately, in most cases, decisions can be reversed or alternatives are employed, as long as they are prepared for in advance.

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The online Master of Public Administration from Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) gives students a broad understanding of the field and its relevant issues. Students become competent at defining public problems, analyzing quantitative and qualitative data, developing and communicating creative solutions, and implementing ethical and practical courses of action.



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