Decision-making comes with the territory if you're a leader. Still, even top-level executives can get a little queasy when they have to make a tough call, and you can be scared of making a choice for a range of reasons. Some of the more common include the following:

  • There's such a high number of options that you're simply overwhelmed.
  • You feel like you can't move forward without more data.
  • You don't trust yourself because of previous bad experiences.
  • The logistical list for specific options is intimidating.
  • Your mental health isn't good due to biology, circumstances or both.
  • The stakes are high and every option feels like it presents significant risk.
  • You're afraid of social ramifications of stirring up trouble and don't want to be rejected/judged.

But this fear doesn't have to stop you.

1. Eliminate the no-gos right from the start. Not all options are created equal--some are downright awful. So strike through as many unfeasible or unreasonable choices as soon as possible to reduce the anxiety and paralysis of sheer quantity. Asking others for their recommendations is an easy and efficient way to get some initial direction for this process, as items no one mentions likely haven't stood out well or have more serious cons.

2. Admit that more data isn't always better (or going to change your outcome). Researchers have shown that, especially today, most of us are biased toward information and believe it always adds value. But most individuals actually make their decision, even if it is subconsciously, well before they have all the data that could be considered as relevant. Commit to a solid date to stop collecting. Then focus on making the absolute best decision possible at that moment with the data you have, rather than worrying about pieces that are still missing.

3. Know your options for revision or modification. It's tempting to see making a choice as putting a period on a problem, but a decision does not have to be a finite end in most instances. You often can choose to improve or even completely reverse what you've done. This isn't without consequences or costs, but choosing some way to move forward is easier if you understand that you are adaptable enough to adjust as you make mistakes and learn.

4. Highlight "doability", not sequence length. A complex option might have dozens or even hundreds of steps that can make it less appealing than other, simpler options. Those steps even might take years to finish. But none of that changes logistical viability. Ground yourself in the knowledge that the "how" is clear to ensure that you don't dismiss challenging options that could yield better overall results.

5. Look back at successes. Are some wins from pure dumb luck? Sure. But luck doesn't finish a full degree or certificate, get a good performance review, convince lenders to fund a venture or establish long-term relationships. Rather than let a few failures rattle you, identify the steps you took to recover. Objectively review not only major accomplishments, but also the small daily wins that have allowed you to slowly, consistently move forward or improve lives. This will make it easier for you to believe in your own intelligence, expertise and credibility.

6. Identify reasonable precautions. While you might not be able to cut risk completely, there's often a lot you can do to prevent things from going south. Look at all those options before making a final determination about what the true risk for a particular path might be--"riskier" options in fact might not be so bad if their precautions are easier to implement than those for "safer" choices. And by identifying safeguards, you can lean on the knowledge that you're being as responsible as possible if others voice concerns.

7. Take time to put on your oxygen mask. The saying on an airline is that you should put your own air mask first to prevent yourself from becoming incapacitated and, therefore, being unable to help others. Whether it's stepping away for five minutes of meditation practice, taking an extra few days of vacation, exploring issues with a counselor or refusing to miss sleep, self-care will improve both your emotional and cognitive ability to review data you have and to engage with others through that process.

8. Authentically communicate and connect. If you haven't learned by now, it's pretty darn tough to please everybody. So nix that as your goal. Instead, make holding firm to integrity your objective. This means that you talk about options with others with total honesty, consistency and transparency, and that you consider how others feel and think. By doing this with people at all levels through the entire decision-making process, you'll make it easier for others to trust you and to understand that, even if the outcome isn't what they wanted, you rationally did what you thought was best. You'll also attract more people who can offer their support so you have everything you need to make the call without undue stress.

Published on: Aug 5, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.