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Facts, Intuition, and Errors

Leadership is the art of balancing multiple priorities and multiple stakeholders with multiple needs. How do you strike the right balance for any decision? Turns out that making balanced decisions requires … balancing.

Decision-making requires 1) recognizing that there is a choice to be made, 2) having a reliable method for making the choice, and 3) the secret sauce – we’ll get to that in a moment.

Some leaders are led through decisions by their gut. “I just know what’s right in any situation,” says an acquaintance, a very successful entrepreneur. “I’ve got nothing to do with it,” says another; “the facts make the decision.”

These are two extreme cases. Most of us find a balance between the two, utilizing some degree of instinct, some degree of analysis. Me, I am highly guided by data, but trust my instincts.

As an instinctual leader, I was recently surprised by a review of my favorite playlists. Seems that many of the songs I’ve been listening to often come from albums that I initially dismissed as disappointing.

I’ve always prided myself on my music instincts. From The Beatles in fall of ’63 to The Eagles in spring of ’72 to John Mayer, Death Cab and Kings of Leon in this past decade, I have generally been able to recognize world class bands on first listening within a few bars. Yet here I am listening repeatedly to music that I rejected at first, including some longtime favorites who I initially thought had stumbled.

I have to conclude that my instincts failed me. I wrongly heard mediocrity where what was really going on was my inability to appreciate new musical directions. My instinctual reaction led me to wrong judgments.

I can argue that there was nuance here, that something told me to keep listening, but still, my initial reactions were wrong.

Think about it. How often are your instincts wrong? Or how often are your fact-based decisions wrong? How can you know?

In the end, no decision maker bats 1.000. We will always make some mistakes, even when we stay within our preferred decision-making style. This is not an argument for being indecisive. It is, however, an argument for humility and openness.

And that’s the secret sauce for good decision-making: humility. Knowing from the start that you might be wrong, and someone else might be right – fearlessly going ahead with what you think is right, but monitoring the results of the decision, just in case.

If we remember that in even the most familiar situations – like me with music – we can err, it helps us keep our minds open. That allows nimble course correction. And that can only lead to better results.

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