Most entrepreneurs are eternal optimists: You don’t start a business thinking it’s going to fail.
That means that when making big decisions it is very easy to play checkers rather than chess--failing to look a few moves ahead and to anticipate scenarios where things don’t go as planned. The result is crisis decision-making that fixes problems as they arise rather than a real strategic understanding of the ultimate objectives, and plans for dealing with roadblocks that might occur.
Politicians give us countless examples of this, especially recently. The government shutdown and President Obama’s “red line” on Syria are both examples of the impact of painting yourself into a corner without a clear plan for what to do when things don’t go exactly as planned. The confusion and crisis decision-making in both cases made having a face-saving way out the ultimate goal rather than any real strategic objectives that may have existed early on.
Whenever you face a major decision, it critical to spend time understanding what you want to realistically achieve and to define a path to get there. Since most roads have potholes and detours, it’s just as important to consider how you will work around those.
- Consider the top three ways things could go wrong before you act. We all like to think our decisions are awesome, but many factors can make even an awesome decision turn out differently than we planned. Spend time gaming through the three most likely ways your decision could go wrong and have a plan of action to still achieve your objectives when they do. Hopefully everything turns out great, but when challenges arise you will already have a game plan to keep on track.
- View your actions from the perspective of those on the other side of the table. Your decisions probably affect others. Whether it is a customer negotiation, organizational changes or policy shift, the way you see the world is not the same as those on the receiving end. Considering their vantage point may cause you to rethink your overall approach, or plan ahead to deal with any potential negative reaction ahead of time.
- Ask for what you want but know what you need. Santa Claus teaches us all at a young age that what you want and what you get are often two different things. Setting the bar very high is admirable and important, but also recognize what you absolutely must achieve and where you can give a little to get a little. This is as true in managing a team as it is in a negotiation.
- Never draw hard lines without understanding what the next step is once they are crossed. Both examples above illustrate the tremendous risk in setting absolute terms. Often those lines in the sand will be crossed, leaving those who drew them with nothing but bad choices. Being firm and clear is good, but making decisions or setting terms without giving yourself the flexibility to adapt and compromise when things go wrong is a recipe for disaster.