Executive Careers Blog

Career Skills: How Are You at Making Decisions?

Your next decision.

My wife and I were worried. "Which way do you think we should go?" she asked. I had no idea.

Four hours into a mountain hike in Nova Scotia that was steeper and longer than we'd expected, we were low on water, low on energy, and apparently lost.

Plus there were bears.

We hadn't actually seen the bears, but the entrance sign had warned, "If you see a bear, don't run. Act big."

That's the sort of advice you can apply to work: maybe you've got a tough boss, or a difficult client, or an uncomfortable conversation. Ok. Don't run. Act big.

I often coach executives to act big when making presentations. But I've never considered—never wanted to consider—acting big with a bear.

Our immediate problem though wasn't bears, it was options. On the way up the mountain, there'd been one path. No options, no decisions.

But going down, the path had forked. Which way to go? There were no signs. I would have welcomed a subtle hint, maybe an arrow, or a marked tree, or a miming bear. But no, nothing.

Well, life is like that. Sometimes you've just got to decide, without knowing if it'll work out.

So we chose. One path was level, the other, steep—we chose steep.

We had to get off the mountain quickly, for the main reason that this mountain, obviously, was trying to kill us.

An hour later, our trail dead-ended. Wrong choice.

Luckily, the trail stopped near a house. The owners were in their yard and they were friendly.

They told us that dozens of hikers had made the same mistake, then they drove us back to our car.

You could say we made a bad decision, we took the wrong path. Or, maybe it was a good decision—we got off the mountain without being eaten by bears.

But sometimes, good or bad doesn't matter; what matters is action. Action gets you moving. Then, based on what happens, and what you learn, you course-correct.

Tip: What decisions can you make right now? Don't wait—time isn't always your friend.

Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (www.expresspotential.com),  Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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