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Each day, Donna Thompson, CEO of Chicago-based Access Community Health Network, the nation’s largest network of community health centers, makes countless decisions. Whether it’s choosing to partner with an area hospital to care for patients without health insurance or approving the new corporate logo, Thompson always goes through the same decision-making process before taking action. Her ritual of asking questions, brainstorming options, researching outcomes, and evaluating her decisions has served the 48-year-old professional well in making her ascent from registered nurse to the CEO’s seat. Thompson says, “Good decision making isn’t as much about having all the right answers as it is using a process to ask all the right questions.”
According to Dr. Spencer Johnson, author of “Yes” or “No”: The Guide To Better Decisions (HarperCollins; $13.95), your status is dictated by your choices. Therefore, you can dramatically enhance your life by following these seven steps to making better decisions:
Determine the decisions you need to make. Carefully evaluate the impact your choices will have on those involved. Consider the pros and cons of your actions so you can effectively communicate them to members of your organization. “The decision to host a company party is clearly different than a decision to restructure the organization,” says Thompson, who had to make staff cutbacks last year.
Define the opportunity that requires a decision. Robert Cannon, founder of The Cannon Advantage, a leadership consulting firm, helps business leaders make better decisions. “Decision making is not a problem-solving activity; but a proactive exercise in constructing a preferred future for yourself and others,” he says
Identify your desired outcome. From ancient military strategist Sun Tzu to leadership guru Stephen Covey, this principle has been a century-old mandate. In short, figure out the sacrifices and trade-offs you need to make in order to get the results you want. For instance, earlier in Thompson’s career, she had to weigh spending long hours at work against having more time with her children. “As a nurse I did extremely important work,” she says, “but I wanted to make the decision that would result in what was best for my children so I researched my options and scaled back at work.”
Research your options. Brainstorm as many possible scenarios as you can. For Thompson, it means doing the due diligence necessary — including consultations with board members and executive staffers — to understand how her decisions will impact the organization as a whole.
Choose the option that will best meet your goals and priorities. When making the final decision, go to a mirror, look yourself square in the eye, and ask whether you can live with it. You have to consult your head and heart and make the following determination: “Is this choice logical and legal? Will it accurately reflect my values and beliefs?”
Implement your decision. Explains Cannon: “Decisions are only effective when you act on them.” Once you’ve selected a course of action, move on it. Don’t fret or second-guess yourself. Remember that you can always make adjustments to your plan.
Evaluate your decision. Did you