Do you make your decisions by design or by default?

Your life is the sum of your decisions. A business is created by the decisions the leaders make or don’t make. A family exists and operates because of decisions.

One of the biggest challenges with decision-making is not the decision we make, it’s the decision we don’t make. I call it the default decision. It’s where you keep moving – going along with the routine – without realizing you had a chance to make a different decision.

You stick with the same product lines, the same client base or the same dietary habits. You raise your kids like your parents raised you. Or perhaps you employ the same relationship model with your spouse for decades even though your circumstances dramatically change.

It doesn’t feel like a decision. There’s not a moment when someone puts options in front of you, or a time when you officially accept or decline a different path. Yet, everyday you continue as is. The decision is not made by design; it’s made by default.

These are the most dangerous kinds of decisions.

As a business consultant, I frequently see organizations falling behind because the leaders are not proactively looking at where they should be making new decisions.

In the Harvard Business Review article “Who Has the D?,” Paul Rogers and Marcia Blenko write that “decisions are the coin of the realm in business. Every success, every mishap, every opportunity seized or missed is the result of a decision someone made or failed to make.”

They point out that “making good decisions and making them quickly are the hallmarks of high-performing organizations.”

Yet very few organizations have a decision-making model and criteria.

The first challenge is to decide what to decide. Do you evaluate your offerings and structure every year, every five years or every buying season? What are the indicators you use to assess change? To make good decisions, and make them quickly, leaders have to pay attention to subtle shifts.

My waistband tells me when it’s time to make different nutrition decisions. It shows up there even before the scale. Organizations have similar indicators. If you’re a small organization, it may be informal intuition. If you’re a larger organization, it may be market perception, student outcomes or economic indicators.

Decision-making is one of the core functions of an executive team. If you’re not there to make decisions, there’s no point getting together. It’s just as easy to put your head down in your own silo and send your report to your boss.

Effective teams (and individuals) are proactive about decisions. Deciding what to decide is the first step. Then, using an agreed-upon model and process is key. Teams are a collection of individuals who show up with their own subconscious models. For example, do you make decisions quickly based on your gut, or do you take your time to gather all the info? Both styles can work. But imagine a team where half the people were inclined to go fast and the other half want to go slow.

We recently created a decision model for an executive leadership team. We included a process for deciding what to decide, weighing options and involving others. It included criteria for when to delay and when to jump.

Your life, your work and your family are too important to leave the decisions to default. Design your decisions, and success follows.

– Lisa Earle McLeod is a leadership consultant and the author of several books. For more information, visit


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