4 Ways for CEOs to Avoid Decision Fatigue

Estimated read time 4 min read

CEOs are in charge of making choices. Every day, leaders make dozens of decisions, many of which have significant and long-term consequences for the success of their organizations and teams. Great CEOs understand that decision-making often requires a nuanced and thorough approach, whether it’s making a change in a key position, taking a chance launching in a new market, or testing out a fresh product line.

Most leaders do not take decision-making lightly. And occasionally, leaders’ fear of making the wrong judgment leads them to make no decision at all. Leaders may become stuck when considering a large range of viable answers. This is when decision fatigue might set in.

Decision fatigue is fundamentally ambivalence, and while it cannot be avoided, the good news is that there are strategies to overcome it. Here are some tried-and-true ways for dealing with decision fatigue from some of the top leaders I’ve met in my career.

  1. Lay the groundwork
    When executives fail to employ strategy as a guide, they experience decision fatigue. Before executives can make any decisions, they must first establish a solid foundation by establishing the company’s goal, vision, values, purpose, and operational principles. When provided with multiple possibilities, it quickly becomes evident which option best corresponds with the company’s objective. Successful executives don’t merely develop the company’s beliefs and values and hang them on the wall; they apply them to every decision they make. They consider if the conclusion supports the company’s mission and upholds its principles and values before making a choice. Employees benefit from clarity when these concepts are identified. When individuals can apply the company’s values to their own decision-making, it ensures organizational alignment.
  2. Connect with peers to identify your prejudices.
    It might be tough to recognize blind spots and self-monitor how biases influence decision-making. Leaders may confront biases and obtain fresh insights by surrounding themselves with a trusted group of knowledgeable, supportive persons who can offer varied perspectives. Learning to ask for and accept feedback is one of the most difficult — and crucial — components of being a leader. One thing that all of the outstanding CEOs I’ve met have in common is a desire to improve as leaders. Instead of instantly going on the defensive, the best CEOs engage in a variety of points of view. Even if they disagree with someone’s assessment, they inquire and investigate with curiosity and humility. They leave their prejudices at the door and approach these discussions with an open mind. These leaders make every effort to prevent confirmation bias or presenting facts in a way that is biased toward their desired outcome. When CEOs have the opportunity to discuss issues openly with peers who have had similar obstacles, their peers assist them in framing the underlying issue.
  3. Make room for a decision.
    Effective CEOs understand the importance of delegating decisions to their teams and empowering them to make decisions that are in line with their plan. However, there are some decisions that can only be made by the CEO. And when that’s the case, it’s fine to take your time and think things out. “I need more time,” I used to think, was a sign of weakness, but now I realize it’s a sign of power. Taking the time to carefully explore the solution from a new angle always results in a better outcome.
  4. Recognize that no two decisions are alike.
    The fact that no two situations are ever exactly the same is part of what makes the business environment so hard and interesting. Great CEOs assess each circumstance against the company’s objective based on current factors rather than depending solely on what worked or did not work the previous time. The stakes are really high. In our current atmosphere of inflation and economic uncertainty, set against a healthy labor market, decision-making has never been more complex or vital. Leaders may be fearful about making the wrong judgment. However, decision-making is not always black and white; there can be an unlimited number of correct choices. Instead of considering whether a decision is correct or incorrect, good leaders assess whether a better or best answer exists. So much of the success of any decision is linked to using rigor and diligence upfront, then truly believing in the conclusion and putting work into guaranteeing its success. It can be tempting to back out of a decision when things don’t go as planned. However, great leaders are those who can cut through the noise, fear, and decision fatigue to rally their teams around a common goal and move the company ahead.

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