You have a secret weapon anytime you face a tough decision. That secret weapon is your value system. Understanding and aligning with your values are a particularly useful addition to your decision-making toolset. Your value system indicates if a particular decision is in or out of alignment with values through your feelings.
One thing was clear from my interviews with 77 executives. They are clear on their values and principles. Their values ground their decision-making. The farther up into leadership positions the fewer boundaries there are and the more complex the decisions. Complex decisions may not have a single correct answer. There is great latitude and range of choice. Without values, it is hard to chart a course through an open sea of options. Executives describe using their values or principles to narrow the options. They search for and trust in the decision that is in alignment with their value system – the decision that “just feels right.” It feels right because it is in sync with their experience and with their deeply held beliefs.
Executives also point out the importance of having a personal value system that aligns with the company culture. That value system alignment enables faster decision-making because feelings can be trusted. When the decision makes sense and feels right, they find that it is usually the best solution for them and the company. However, for some executives, their personal value system may not entirely align with the company. I saw this, for example, with an executive who had a long history of public sector service but now works at a private company. He found decision-making to be more challenging due to fundamentally different motivations. His public service decisions were highly motivated by a sense of public good whereas his private company was driven by a profit motive. (Note: Many companies I work with have a strong sense of public service. I find that the stereotype of public and private motivations to be overly simplistic.) In situations where value systems did not align, this executive had to think more about his decision to ensure that his natural inclination yielded an appropriate decision for the company.
And, what about you? Do you know your values? Do you know the principles that guide your decision-making? Try this simple exercise. Answer the following question as quickly as possible. Don’t think about it! Ready?….
If I were a car part, I’d be a _________.
What did you come up with? Steering wheel, tire, carburetor, hood ornament? Now ask yourself, “Why did that car part come to mind?” For example, I picked steering wheel because I like to be in control. In my programs, I’ve heard motor because I make things go; tire because I put the rubber to the road with practical actions; interior light because I like to see inside the situation. Whatever it is for you, this simple exercise reveals something about you and your value system. It’s worth the effort to more fully understand your values because they are a key influence on your decisions. If you are interested in learning more, there is a chapter and exercise on values in my book, Think Less, Live More: Lessons from a Recovering Over-Thinker.
The next time you face a tough decision and judgment call, pause and pay attention to your feelings because they are driven by values. Consider the insights they bring and put them to work to create more effective decision-making.