4 Things Decisive People Do Differently, Part I

With a 9-month old in my left arm and a two-and-a-half year old begging to “Hold you, Mama? Hold you?”, I had to find a way to free up my right hand so I could scoop her up for the trek downstairs.

“Okay, baby. Can you help me hold Ethan’s bottle so I can pick you up?”


After a goofy, song-filled saunter down the stairs, I set her down and ask, “Can you please take Ethan’s bottle to the kitchen and put it on the counter?”

“Okay, Mama!”

She darts away excitedly and I watch inquisitively as she veers left instead of making a right into the kitchen. She’s headed for Dad with the bottle in hand.

“Here, Dada. Can you put on counter, pwease?”

All I could do was laugh as I looked at my husband and said, “she just delegated that to you.” He shrugged in speechless amusement as he carried out his newfound responsibility.

Although quite humorous, I couldn’t help but admire how she had gotten the job done one way or the other. She certainly didn’t dump the task off—she delegated it. First, she was kind in the way she asked and she gave clear instructions for what needed to be done. That is successful delegation 101 and I just witnessed a two-and-half year do it right. I was impressed. For whatever reason, she made a decision that Dad was better equipped for the job. Perhaps she observed that his reach would be far more effortless than the huffing-and-puffing, tippy-toe stretch she’d have to do to get that onto the counter. Who knows?

It became clear to me in that moment, though, that making decisions isn’t just for the higher levels of leadership. Decisiveness, at its most fundamental level, is a commitment to work beyond the identification of a problem to the solving of a problem. My daughter may have had a problem reaching the counter, but she didn’t give up and leave the bottle on the floor or come back and tell me why it couldn’t be done. She found a solution. She made a decision. She got the job done. Everyone, at every level, should be exercising decisiveness and problem-solving to this extent.

Learning to make good decisions isn’t a cut and dry concept that can be documented or made into some kind a formula; it is a fluid and complex skill that requires mastery over time. I certainly haven’t mastered it myself, but I have discovered some ways to practice decision-making that have matured me a great deal over the years. I’ll share two in this blog and the next two in a second post to follow.

PRACTICE 1: Simulate Decision-making Scenarios

When I was first hired as a graphic designer, I sat in a lot of meetings during my training period and just listened. I quickly learned how often hard questions came up that required an immediate, yet thoughtful response. After attending a couple of these meetings, I had an idea that would turn my passive observation into more active learning without being overt. It was sort of like a game I played with myself. Instead of just listening to the conversation and waiting to hear the decisions that would come out of that, I would try and quickly determine to myself what I believed the best response or course of action was before I heard an answer given. I would then listen for the ultimate decision from leadership and score myself on how well I did.

I know that sounds kind of cheesy, but these simulated experiences were extremely effective because any time a decision was made that was different than what I had determined, it would force me to reconcile why that was. Had I not ventured beyond just listening, it would have never provoked an analysis at that level and I would have missed out on some great learning opportunities. This approach was perfect for how young and green I was because it fast-tracked my ability to think on my feet and to favor solving problems over simply reacting to them.

PRACTICE 2: Don’t Concede to Uncertainties.

There is certainly a right time to ask questions, gather input, and listen to feedback. But as you become a little more seasoned, there are also times when it’s right to be decisive and assert your expertise. Start by confidently taking the lead on issues that arise in your department or area of expertise. Then, when it’s decision time, resist the temptation to go to your leader and ask what you should do. Instead, determine what you believe a creative solution might be, then go to your leader and say, “here’s an idea about how we could approach this”.

Coming to leadership with a question means you’re coming to them with a problem that you want them to solve, but coming to them with a well thought-out determination means you’re ready with a viable solution and want their feedback. Not only is this valuable to your leadership, but it is also a critical distinction for you to practice making mentally. You’re training your brain to work all the way through to a solution instead of requiring input into every little uncertainty and inquiry that might arise.

If you want to be an effective contributor and ultimately a great leader where you are, decisiveness is a non-negotiable. People cannot follow, trust, or depend on an indecisive leader. No matter what level you’re currently at, if leadership is your trajectory, decide now to start practicing good decision-making. Look for creative ways to do more than what’s asked or expected of you and intentionally put yourself in situations that require your active involvement and boldness. The more practice you get, the more accelerated your growth will be in this area.