How Do You Make Decisions?

by | Leadership, Self-Leadership Mindset

Jim has to make a decision. Tom is on the accounting team Jim supervises. Tom is a likeable person and he does his job fairly well. However, lately he’s been coming in late, taking long lunches, and being rather unfocused. He’s taking a long time to get regular  work done. How should Jim talk to Tom?

Sarah is a leader in her organization. She is responsible for getting this project done. She has six other people that she is pulling together. She wants to get it done. She’s ready to dive right in, delegate the work, set up deadlines. But she realizes the value of team ownership of the project and wants the other members to contribute to the process of setting up the project as well as accomplishing the project. But they are dragging their feet, talking about it forever, and not coming to practical decision points fast enough.  How should Sarah handle this situation?

Allen is a consultant. He’s working one-on-one with his client. The client wants to solve a problem one way, but Allen knows that’s not the most efficient way. The client’s solution will work and there might be some advantages to the people in his company. But Allen feels it’s not the most efficient way or the way that costs less. Should Allen go with the client’s preferences and priorities or insist on his way?

Jim, Sarah and Allen have their own decision making styles. They will be better managers if they understand their own styles and can understand the decision making styles of those around them. Jim can either come down hard on Tom because he’s not fulfilling his job description, empathetically ask if Tom has a problem, or set practical standards for performance because the client’s work has to be completed on time. Sarah can do the set up herself not getting the team’s buy-in, be practical with them about the project’s timeline, be impatient that nothing is happening, or understand that others may need more time to discuss it. Allen can insist that the client do it his way or he can be sensitive to the client’s decision making process and the client’s priorities.

Three Decision Making Dimensions

Much research has been done on how people make decisions over the last 60 years. The most influential work was done by Dr. Robert Hartman a triple PhD from Yale and MIT who worked in the fields of psychology, math and philosophy. He showed that people have masters and blind spots along three scales.

  • Empathy – feeling for people, their uniqueness and humanness
  • Practicality – the most efficient and least costly way to get something accomplished
  • Systems – the way things should be, measured in comparison to the true perfect way

Here’s a better way to understand it. Imagine 3 people sitting at a table with each one a pure form of each of the three scales. (of course, in reality we’re all a mix) On the table sits a project. The Systems person will say, “Let’s study this and figure out all the steps. Let’s analyze it first. Then we’ll get started.” The Practical person says, “No, that wastes time. Let’s just do it. We’ll figure it out as we go.” The Empathetic person says, ‘Both of you have really missed the boat. What’s important here is how we work together and the relationships we develop with each other while doing the project.”

In the World of Big and Small Business

Do we see this in the business world? Sure, how about with small businesses? The bankers and investors want to see a detailed business plan before they make a decision. They want to analyze before they take any risk. They are true systems people. The practical entrepreneur, on the other hand, just wants to get started and figure it out as he goes. The classic example of ‘Ready, aim, fire’ vs. ‘Ready, fire, aim’ The empathetic business owner is totally out of this loop, calling his business a ‘practice’ and not really applying business growth principles or ways of thinking.

In larger companies quite often the CEO is a practical person focused on action, efficiency and what works. No wonder it’s hard to really convince him that his people are his main asset and that HR people deserve a seat at the executive table. He’s so focused on profits that the HR industry has had to use the phrase ‘human capital management’ to create a handle that a practical person will give validity to. And Enron is a perfect example where profits and efficiency took precedence over values, ethics and the perfect world view of the systemic thinker.

Jim has choices about how he talks to Tom.

  • empathetically ask Tom if he has a problem and be open to listen
  • practically tell him that he’s got to get his work done so the firm can get paid
  • systemically tell him about he needs to do to fulfill his job description

Sarah appears to be very practical. She wants to dive right in. Her team appears to be very systemic. If she understands this she can:

  • give them more time with a definite deadline as she realizes the team buy-in is good for the project long term
  • ask to have some more practical people put on the team as this will be become a pattern she won’t want to see repeatedly

Allen appears to be very practical. His client seems very concerned about his people and so is probably highly empathetic. If he understands the client’s decision making process, he can:

  • present the client with the choice and the probable consequences and go with the client’s thinking
  • just let the client lead him as the client is so definite with his decision

What about you?

  • Are your decisions more empathetic, practical or systemic?
  • Are you so highly systemic that you have blind spots about practicality and people’s feelings?
  • If you are highly practical and work with colleagues or clients who are more empathetic or systemic, do you get frustrated because others don’t think like you do?
  • How can a team leader pull together a team where everyone has different masters and blind spots so much so that people don’t see eye to eye?
  • Can a team that is widely divergent make better team decisions because they make up for each other’s masters and blind spots?
  • Do you want to purposely put together practical people to get a special project done fast?
  • If you unwittingly choose only systemic people, do you run the risk that the project might get stuck in analysis paralysis? How much money does that waste?
  • If you’re looking to engineer great customer experiences, do you want to put your most empathetic people on the front line? How much more profit can you generate from additional customer loyalty because you provide a great people-to-people experience for your clients?
  • What if you clearly are strong in one decision making master but you prefer another?

Socrates says all knowledge is self-knowledge.

Certainly we see the world through our own colored glasses. Our perceptions shape what we claim to be reality. The Attribute Index is an assessment that I administer so you can learn about your decision making masters and blind spots. People who know their strengths and set themselves up for success lead personally and professional successful lives. If you’d like to learn more, please feel free to contact me.

Meanwhile please please a comment. How do you make decisions?

Jeri Quinn

Jeri Quinn from Driving Improved Results is an executive coach, management consultant, speaker and author who focuses on communication in her work with executives and companies. She is the author of The Customer Loyalty Playbook, 12 Game Strategies to Drive Improved Results in Your Business. With more than 40 years as a serial entrepreneur.

Quinn has worked with executives and teams in over 40 industries, spoken at major business expos including New York City’s Javits Center, facilitated business development and extraordinary customer service at institutions such as MoMA and AIG, and has partnered with New York City, The Kauffman Foundation, Citibank, Merrill Lynch, HSBC, and Signature Bank to educate their clients.


She can be reached at:

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