I recently had a conversation with a friend who was wrestling with a tough decision. Oftentimes, tough decisions involve choosing between two less-than-ideal options — discerning the lesser of two evils. In my friend’s case, there were two good options. Both would likely yield a positive outcome in the near and long-term future. Surprisingly, it didn’t make the decision any easier for him. In fact, the choice remained incredibly difficult.
The conversation made me think about David Brooks’ recent op-ed in the New York Times, The Choice Explosion. In the article, Brooks describes social science research that reveals how Americans crave options, yet don’t feel equipped to consistently make good choices. In fact, in some ways, we are wired to make poor choices. While experts offer a variety of techniques for weighing options, Brooks eventually prescribes a large dose of self-awareness as perhaps the most critical component of better decision-making.
At this point, my friend had been deliberating for weeks already, struggling to make the right decision or at least the one that would be best for his career and family, and allow him to feel good about the path forward. He was more than willing to take responsibility for the outcome, but he wanted advice that would make the process easier in the meantime.
My advice was to look inward, to examine his core. Your core is who you are. It’s your motives, values, and sense of purpose all working together, influencing everything you see, feel, say and do — including how you choose. Using the SDI, one of the learning tools we use in Core Strengths Accountability training, we identified that my friend’s Motivational Value System (MVS) was HUB. This meant that he valued options and different perspectives, and perhaps partly explained why he was struggling to land on the right decision.
We then took a look at his Strengths Portrait. His top strengths were loyal, devoted and caring — Blue strengths. It was easy to see these strengths in how he worked to benefit his team and his customers. Since one of the options before him meant losing daily interaction with colleagues he admired and customers he enjoyed serving, his decision became more clear.
This kind of self-awareness also improves team decision-making in several ways:
The SDI and Strengths Portrait clue you in on what gives people a sense of ownership in the decision-making process. Green MVSs need time to think things through. Reds are energized by making decisions on the spot. Blues build consensus. HUBs consider different options and approaches. Sharing and handing off decisions with these traits in mind empowers team members, boosts engagement and helps the team as a whole make better decisions.
In group decision-making sessions, you can take initiative by choosing a strength you don’t normally use. Perhaps you choose to be Self-Confident to boldly present your idea, or pause to be Inclusive and gather consensus when you’d normally act without delay. Choosing a strength to fit the audience and situation will make your message more powerful and help you get the results you want.
You can see your team’s blind spots more clearly and build your team accordingly. If your team is composed of Reds, Blues and HUBs, you need the Green perspective that brings a concern for process, order and objectivity. A complete perspective ensures more successful decision-making.
Finally, understanding strengths helps you appreciate different approaches to decision-making. You learn to see how being Quick to Act and Analytical, while seemingly opposite, both serve a purpose within the team.
The SDI and Strengths Portrait help us become accountable for our choices and the results of those choices. In the end, my friend listened to his core and chose the option that best honored his values and most readily allowed him to use his strengths. Once he made the decision, he committed to the path he had chosen knowing that it most closely reflected what was important to him.
If self-awareness is the treatment for dealing with tough choices, the SDI and Strengths Portrait, part of Core Strengths Accountability training, are just what the doctor ordered.