The Do’s and Don’ts of Decision-Making

Having the ability to continuously make higher-quality decisions than the competition is a life-long learning process.

By David Goldsmith

Great decision-making skills have never been more important then in today’s business environment. The playing field has been leveled because most individuals and organizations basically have access to the same technology, information, and markets as their competitors. What ultimately will distinguish competitors is their ability to make better decisions.

High-performing decision-makers act and think differently. Here, a look at the decision-making actions to be avoided and the tools for making higher-quality decisions.

The Actions of Bad Decision-Makers

Know-It-Alls: Bad decisions often happen when individuals or companies think they have all the right answers. What makes this so dangerous is that know-it-alls shut down their creativity, innovativeness, and willingness to expand their thinking process. Great decision-makers know they don’t have all the right answers and seek to gain additional knowledge.

Blinders: The graveyard of bad decision-making is filled with individuals and organizations that refused to see the reality of the problems they were facing. When decision-makers wear blinders, they severely limit their capabilities to make good decisions, which eventually may lead to their demise. ENRON is a example of the dire outcomes that can happen when decisions are made with blinders on. Its leaders and management teams made decisions based on self-delusions and willful distortions.

Hip Shooters: Many unsuccessful decisions have been made by shooting from the hip first and asking questions later. Knee-jerk decisions based on unfounded assumptions and past experiences alone often lead to trouble. Before formulating their decisions, leaders, executives, managers, and organizations must test their assumptions to see if they have merit. Using past experiences that may not be completely relevant to the current situation may lead to flawed decision.

Conclusion: Poor decision-makers often stick with long-ingrained decision-making patterns even in the face of negative outcomes. They don’t force themselves to make decisions outside of their comfort zone, gather the needed data, or ask for (or accept) honest feedback. Knowing it all, wearing blinders, or shooting from the hip often leads to bad decisions—or even catastrophic results.

What Great Decision-Makers Do Differently

Great decision-makers are creative and innovative and can adapt to each new decision-making situation. Using the following tools, which are drawn from the models of good decision-makers, will improve the quality of your own decisions.

Frame the problem: The first ingredient to making a quality decision is to properly understand the true problem that needs to be solved. Properly framing the problem involves knowing what type of decision must be made: routine (everyday), strategic (long term), tactical (short term), and operational (process). Great decision-makers challenge themselves to try different ways of evaluating, analyzing, and framing the problem. Using this technique will help you to gain a deeper appreciation of the situation in a self-critical fashion.

Embrace ignorance: Great decision-makers use their own ignorance as a tool to make better and deeper decisions. Embracing ignorance installs a curiosity that nurtures creativity, innovation, and a willingness to gather data from difference sources. Accepting one’s ignorance forces the decision-maker to become a life-long learner.

Define the gap: Understanding the situation and the problem will help you define the gap between where you currently are and where you need to be. Once you have framed the problem correctly, you then are ready to create a decision that will close this gap. Too many decision-makers do not have a clear vision of what a positive or negative decision will look like. Defining the gap that needs to be closed helps clarify what kind of decision needs to be made.

Ask questions: Asking tough questions of yourself and others is a powerful tool that great decision-makers use to their advantage. Here are some examples of such questions:

  • Do you gather feedback that just supports your beliefs, or do you seek data that will give different views than yours?
  • Do you challenge yourself by asking the tough questions that will help better analyze the situation?
  • Do you allow your ego to blind you from accepting the truth about a situation or problem that takes you out of your comfort zone?
  • Do you let unfounded assumptions frame the problem?

Asking these kinds of questions will provide the additional knowledge needed to make better decisions in a self-critical manner.

Get feedback: Knowing how to ask and get the necessary feedback is another tool that will help you gain insights that will help formulate the right decisions. Incorporating a self-question strategy will help you to evaluate the quality of the feedback. Here are some examples:

  • Was the feedback just what they thought you wanted to hear?
  • What new insights did the feedback provide?

When you create a feedback strategy, be prepared with follow-up probing questions that will enhance the depth of the feedback. This is a tool great decision-makers use to help them determine the quality and honesty of the feedback. This approach will help generate the kind of data that will improve the decision-making process.

Conclusion: Research conducted by Jeff Grabmeier, author of “Making Successful Strategic Decisions,” has concluded that between 40 and 50 percent of all complex decisions are flawed. Great decision-makers know the necessary tools to cover all their bases before formulating the decisions: correctly framing the problem, using ignorance as a quest to gain additional knowledge, closing the gap between where you currently are and where you want to be, creating a questioning strategy, and embracing feedback. Having the ability to continuously make higher-quality decisions than the competition is a life-long learning process.

For more information, contact David Goldsmith at

Training Top 125

2017 Training Top 125 winners demonstrated a strong focus on effective training and employee development tied to corporate strategic goals and business impact.

From the Editor

While editing one of the articles, “Lessons for New L&D Leaders,” for this issue, I read something that struck a chord: “When meeting with peers and up-line colleagues, ask: ‘How can I help you

Digital Issue

Click above for Training Magazine's
current digital issue

Training Live + Online Certificate Programs

Now You Can Have Live Online Access to Training magazine's Most Popular Certificate Programs! Click here for more information.

Emerging Training Leaders


Spectacular. Impressive. Dazzling.

Spring is—finally—in the air.

By Lorri Freifeld

ISA Directory