Last year my husband and I went horseback riding in the Smokey Mountains with several friends. After a long day of riding, we were on our way back to camp when we came to a fork in the trail and realized no one was quite sure which way to go. The lead horse, however, was certain it was to the right. Although the horse naturally turned and started down the trail to the right, his rider quickly adjusted the reins to lead the horse to the left. Needless to say, 30 minutes later, we realized we were on the wrong trail heading away from camp.

There are 3 basic principles to good decision making and we violated all 3. They include:

  1. 90% of a correct decision is based on gathering relevant information – you can’t make a good decision if you jump on the first option to present itself.
  2. He who has the best/most information wins! – Knowledge is power and the person with the best/most information is in the best position to make the most informed decision to solve a problem.
  3. Focus on solutions, not just problems – many people only focus on what’s wrong and give little to no thought about how to fix it. It you want to be successful, you have to offer up solutions, not just drop off problems.

As a leader it is not only imperative that YOU make good decisions, it is important that you mentor your employees to help them learn to make good decisions as well. But how do you do that? For starters, you have to ensure your employees take the monkey with them. For example, when employees encounter a problem many times their first response is to come to your office, drop it on your desk and leave. In this situation the problem is the monkey and when you allow them to drop it on your desk you now are the proud owner of the monkey and it’s upon you to resolve the problem. Now, think about how many employees you have, if you allow all of them to drop their monkeys on your desk, by the end of the day you’re running a zoo!

When mentoring others to make good decisions and solve problems you have to ensure they take their monkeys with them when they leave your office. This is best accomplished by asking lots of questions to help them develop and assess options. It’s easier to make decisions when there are lots of options and the only way to generate options is to gather information. With that being said, if you or your employees have a problem and no idea what to do to solve it, it’s likely because you haven’t gathered enough information. Give employees the freedom to explore options, ask questions and make mistakes – your decision making and problem solving will improve exponentially.

In our trail riding case, we did little to gather information before making the decision which trail to take and as a result we made a bad decision. In the end, it was the horse that had the most/best information and we should have listed to him!

*Horse-ism – Using good ‘ole horse sense to become an extraordinary leader!