As a leader, you need to make numerous decisions every day. Some decisions may appear monumental, while others are seemingly trivial. No matter what kind of decisions you face daily, you certainly want to make sound choices that eliminate problems rather than create them.

Unfortunately, for many people, sound decision making poses great challenges. Why? Because most decision-making processes are too narrow. In fact, when most people think about solving a problem and begin making decisions, they do so as if they were playing the mole game at the carnival.

You know the game … you have a large rubber hammer and a surface with lots of holes in it. When you see a mole jump out of a hole, you hit it with your hammer. Just as you hit one mole, another pops out of a different hole. Hit that new mole, and two more pop out someplace else. You’re constantly hitting the moles as they randomly appear, all the while hoping you get points for eliminating them all.

That’s the same game many people play when making decisions. Just as they think they’ve solved the problem, another related problem pops up and requires even more decision making.

This mole game approach to decision making is a present-time oriented activity, meaning you’re not taking the time to review history or to look to the future for clues-two things you must do for effective decision making.
The fact is that most people think their current situation is different from anything that’s ever happened in history. Therefore, they don’t look to the past for guidance. Then, they don’t look far enough into the future for potential consequences surrounding their decision. Yet, it’s clear that when people have good information, they make good decisions. So, we can’t fault decision making itself for poor choices. Rather, we need to fault people’s inability to get appropriate information from the past and to do some scenario planning or simulations before they pull the trigger and move forward with their choices.

Think ‘Generativity’
Having the ability to make sound decisions and ultimately solve more problems than you create means being resilient. When it comes to decision making, there are four main keys to resilience, with each building upon the previous one.

  1. Resourcefulness – The ability to make do and be resourceful when resources are not available.

  2. Persistence – The ability to stick with something long enough so you can see the whole in the parts.

  3. Recovery – The ability to bounce back, realizing that it’s impossible not to make mistakes in the process.

  4. Generativity – The ability learn from your mistakes to prevent additional problems from arising as a result of the mistake.

While all four of these keys are important, the ultimate objective of generativity is perhaps the most crucial. That is, you need to be able to learn from your past experiences and mistakes so you can eliminate problems in the future.

For example, many people these days are in the “green” mind-set and are buying products that are renewable and that save energy. As such, a lot of people are making the decision to purchase fluorescent light bulbs. But this seemingly simple decision has some dire consequences. All those fluorescent light bulbs, which last a long time and save energy, contain mercury. So now we’re taking mercury from the concentrated place where it’s mined and are introducing it into our environment. Neither consumers nor manufacturers of the fluorescent light bulbs looked to the past or thought far enough ahead to make a wise decision; once the bulbs break or no longer work (and they all will eventually break or stop working), they end up in a landfill and leak mercury into the environment (and past events prove that mercury exposure is dangerous). So even though the decision to create and use fluorescent light bulbs was full of good intentions, we’ve ultimately opened a Pandora’s Box. That’s not being generative.

Even if you’ve never used a fluorescent light bulb, chances are you make similar decisions in your own life every day. Perhaps you made the decision to buy something, and once you got the item home or to your office, it sat unused in your closet or on your shelf. In reality, you didn’t need to buy the item. What you were really doing is satisfying some personal desire. You made the decision to spend money on the wrong thing, which then led you to purchase something else you didn’t need. In the end, you have many problems, both large and small, that you are not effectively dealing with, all because of simple decisions you are making on a daily basis.

Be a Forward Thinker
The best way to hone your decision making ability and stop creating more future problems is to ask yourself a simple question: “If I do ______, what might happen?” But don’t just ask yourself this question once; you need to ask it several times so you can really think through various scenarios and become a better generative decision-maker.

And what happens if you do ask this question, think through various scenarios, decide on a course of action, and then have a problem creep up you didn’t think of? First, realize that you can’t possibly know everything, even with all the information possible. Second, know that it’s never too late to stop what you’re doing. No matter how drastic the problem seems, you can stop your current course of action and make changes. Continuing to live with a bad decision is the worst route to take. That’s why resourcefulness and recovery are so important; these skills enable you to clean up your mess and move on.

Finally, as you go through this process, you’re going to learn. You’re going to learn quickly about the kinds of decisions you’re making and how those decision are impacting others and/or creating more problems. The good news is that you can solve more problems than you create, even if you make mistakes along the way. Learning takes you back through the cycle to fix whatever creeps up.

Better Decisions Today
Even the smallest of decisions can have a huge impact on your business, your relationships and your life. The key is to be able to use the past to anticipate the future and guide your actions today. So, start honing your decision-making skills with some seemingly small decisions. Once you notice the connections and see how everything works together, you can move on to some larger decisions. Then, when it’s time for those monumental decisions, you can be a better leader and think in terms of generativity. Ultimately, one tiny mind-set shift can create huge leverage in terms of your ability to make high quality decisions that impact both your life and your business.

About the author:
Mike Jay is a professional business coach, consultant and entrepreneur who has logging more than 10,000 hours of coaching sessions, serving business leaders in more than 27 countries. He is the author of several books on executive coaching, leadership and resilience, including "COACH2 THE BOTTOM LINE: An Executive Guide to Coaching Performance, Change and Transformation in Organizations." For more information, visit www.mikejay.com or contact generati@msn.com.