What happens when you are faced with a decision that requires a leap of faith?
Most of us want to turn and run from these types of decisions. Leaps of faith make great scenes in a movie, but in real life they fill us with stress and uncertainty, two emotions that the human brain is uncomfortable with. Indeed, according to the researchersour brain actively tries to reduce uncertainty about future outcomes to escape those feelings of discomfort and stress.
The big, complex decisions we face are the ones that most affect our lives and our futures, and they’re often the decisions we’re most proud of. Recently, I taught a business school class on decision making in Portugal, and I asked the students to share the best decision they ever made. Over and over again, they focus on those big, complicated decisions like “Buying my first home,” “Saying yes to a job,” “Getting a divorce,” “Living alone,” and “Traveling alone alone.”
The students’ responses mirrored what I heard from corporate clients, who shared that their best decisions included “Taking risks and following my passion,” “Getting married,” and “Deciding to have to my son.”
If uncertainty makes us so depressed, why do so many of us turn to bold decisions? And how can we become more comfortable doing it?
To deal with the discomfort of a decision to take a leap of faith, we can take advantage of a revealing data set that we often ignore: our past decisions. Every choice we make offers information that can inform our future decisions. Looking back at our decision-making history allows us to see patterns we might otherwise not notice – thus providing a valuable perspective for understanding (and solving!) complex and unique problems today and tomorrow.
To help you mine your personal decision-making data set, I’ve created a planning tool I call the Bold Decision Barometer (BDB). It offers a series of steps to identify and evaluate variables from past decisions so you can reduce uncertainty and increase your comfort in taking the next big leap of faith.
1. Identify the decision you need to make.
When we try to solve a thorny problem, we often have to sort through a lot of conflicting information. So the first thing to do is to identify what decision you need to make.
Rhianna, the CEO of an international travel company, is faced with a difficult call: Should she update and reorganize her board of directors – the entity she report and the group he can remove? He inherited the current board from his predecessor, and they were a good team when he started and needed a supportive care-taker board. But in her first two years at the helm, Rhianna has expanded the company’s international operations, and she now needs a team that can enhance a growing, dynamic organization, bringing skills and knowledge that the current board doesn’t have. . On the other hand, he worries that proposing it to the current board could be a quick trip to a forced resignation.
Of course, Rhianna has the option to keep the board anyway, but not acting is her own decision, with consequences. By weighing the implications of being cautious, rather than being bold, you can help your willingness to be bold.
2. Examine your past courageous decisions.
Think of a previous choice you made where you were excited about the outcome. What decisions are before you? What actions did you take related to the decisions?
Rhianna reviews her tenure and identifies two bold changes she made to the organization: She fired someone from her senior leadership team, and she converted a part of the organization to for profit a nonprofit.
Looking back, Rhianna reviews the steps she took before making each decision. In the case of the senior team manager, he heard signs of problems and suspected that they stemmed from this person’s leadership. But he knew he had to test his assumptions against the evidence, so he conducted a financial review of the manager’s unit and talked to key lieutenants about their management. When it came to making the decision about converting the business unit, Rhianna realized she didn’t have the experience she needed in nonprofits. So he meets with fundraisers, lawyers, and other experts to get himself up to speed.
3. Ask yourself what characteristics or similarities are shared between the bold decision you are considering and your previous decisions.
Looking for commonalities allows us to find patterns that give a sense of order to what might otherwise appear strange or chaotic. Additionally, by identifying and understanding recurring commonalities, we are better able to make educated guesses or guesses that allow us to make assumptions. It helps us not only develop our critical thinking and problem solving skills, it also provides familiarity that strengthens our confidence to do something new or bold.
Rhianna noted that in making the first two decisions, she reached out to people with special knowledge. He also realized that he spent time imagining the possibilities of what the organization would look like after his bold decisions were made. For example, he envisions how making changes to his senior leadership team may introduce some short-term change, but in the long term, it will demonstrate his commitment to improving the organization’s culture. In the end, he realized that in both of his earlier decisions, he was willing to accept some short-term personal and professional instability in exchange for a long-term benefit for all.
4. Consider if there are any qualities in your past bold decisions that may be hindering your ability to achieve good results in your current decision.
When we’re happy with a bold decision we’ve made, we often look back on the process with rose-colored glasses. But it’s worth re-examining the missteps or unintended consequences you may have covered to help you understand what could go wrong and prevent risks from emerging.
Revisiting her earlier decisions, Rhianna realized that while she consulted with other senior leaders, there were lower-level team members who had an easier time adapting to the big changes she was making. done if he consulted or informed them earlier. For example, when he fired the senior manager, he believed that the three managers working under him could easily step into his role. But they don’t have the experience or comfort with his responsibilities to make a smooth transition. Rhianna knows that while she can see the consequences of her bold decisions, others may feel – or even be – left in the dark.
5. Use the lessons from your past data in your current decision.
By recognizing what worked well in previous bold decisions and what didn’t, you can “learn as you go,” putting your past to work for you. Of course, looking back doesn’t guarantee success, but it can remind you when, why, and how you made bold choices — and prevent you from repeating those mistakes.
In reviewing her previous decisions, Rhianna realized that she needed to spend time imagining what the organization would look like if she could re-create the board and what steps she would need to take to guide the board through in the process in a collaborative way. He reminded himself that he was comfortable absorbing some short-term instability for a longer-term change, but he knew that he needed to carefully and thoroughly consider who yet he needs to be consulted or informed about the potential change, and how the interim instability will affect others within the organization.
Rhianna made the bold decision to make the case that the existing board needed to change to better meet the current needs of the organization. He shared that he would like to hire an outside consulting firm to review the board and make recommendations for the professional development of members. While the board understands that the organization is growing and that Rhianna has made many personnel changes, her presentation highlights the need for a different type of leadership from the board. Operations are becoming more complex, and important specialized knowledge and experience from board members will further enhance the organization going forward. After Rhianna finished her case, the board enthusiastically signed off on her plans.
. . .
For many of us, making a big, bold decision can be scary, but it can also be exciting. We all want to be captains of our own ships, and facing big decisions with confidence allows us to do so. Using the Bold Decision Barometer, we can learn from the data of our past decisions. While it doesn’t guarantee we’ll make a good decision, it can give us questions to reflect on that can reduce some of the risk and uncertainty we feel about making leap-of-faith decisions so we can still do it. .