By some estimates, a typical person can make up to 35,000 decisions in a day. Most of those are fluff stuff, like whether or not to take a bigger bite of your toast. If you're a business leader, though, more of your decisions will have real weight and complexity -- sometimes tied to millions of dollars and livelihoods. There are certain approaches and questions to consider while making tough calls, so you can make your choices count.

Data-driven decisions are best

Excellent leaders have solid empathy and emotional intelligence. But feelings can be misleading--just ask a toddler who's sure there's a monster under the bed. So, when it comes to making decisions, correct and complete data is critical. Everything must be based on information and root cause analysis, not your own potentially biased opinion or office politics.

1. What's your why?

The decision-making process starts with identifying the correct root cause. What's the real reason you have to make the tough decision in the first place? Find the true "Why" first--then go from there. You may have to ask "why" as many as five times before you get to the real root cause.

2. What are your goals/objectives and key results (OKRs)?

Once you understand why that hard decision needs to be made, your short-term and long-term goals should be your north star here. But sometimes, short-term and long-term goals will seem to contradict each other. In that case, choosing the long term is always the safest bet.

3. How good is your data (and your query)?

Of course, you can't dig into data if it's not already there. As part of your infrastructure, make sure you have tools that let you build a data lake--a repository of raw information. Your data lake enables flexible options for analysis with easy-to-use query tools like Looker.

The quality of your data lake is essential. Find qualified people and build your data analytics team, who can ensure that all your information is as accurate and complete as possible. Otherwise, when you query the system, it can give you back something faulty or misleading. Even one person who can take on this responsibility will help your organization.

You also can't dig into data properly if you're asking the wrong question. If you do not exactly know what problem you are trying to solve, it's going to give you a bunch of irrelevant, unhelpful information. On top of ensuring data quality, the other role of your analytics team is to create an environment where you don't cast your line after the wrong fish.

4. Can you see the data clearly?

It's not unusual to have hundreds, thousands, or even millions of pieces of data in a data lake. This can make it challenging to stay focused or see your information in a clear, understandable way. Have your analytics person or team build you some management dashboards. Those will allow you to get right to the necessary information more easily. They'll also let you view the information in a way that makes the most sense given the priorities or OKRs of you and your organization.

Better organizations, fewer decisions

As a leader, making tough decisions is par for the course. A data-driven approach makes the process easier, not only because you can fall back on a reliable, predictable process but also because everyone knows you're working as objectively as you can.

Keep in mind, as you drill down into your data lake, many tough decisions result from a long chain of earlier errors. If you can set yourself up from the get-go so that fewer of those errors happen, you'll lower the number of difficult choices that land on your plate. Better operational processes simplify your job, and extreme ownership throughout your company prevents many errors before they are made.