The Quest for the Perfect Decision

Over the past year, I have had the incredible experience of hearing a state superintendent of schools, three senior government officials, and two business executives delay making a decision asking for more information. In each case, the decision was delayed at least three times. The white knuckled hand wringing was painful to watch.

Why would anyone put oneself and organization through such an ordeal? Watching and sensing the reaction by the subordinate leaders in the room in each case was eerily similar—just make a decision!

One can have empathy for the executive decision maker. Each faced with a significant decision. The decisions would have a lasting impact on their respective organizations and involved significant resources. Each chose to kick the can down the road by asking for more information, more data, and more time. Each was on a quest for making the perfect decision.  I suppose it is easy to have empathy—I do not.

With the exception of one staff, the different staffs did not produce more than one alternative for consideration.  In the case where several alternatives were presented, only one was viable. In no case was a decision making model used.

Decision Making Model

A robust decision making model will take into account multiple alternatives. I recommend three as an optimum number of alternatives. A viable alternative must be able to achieve the objective. Alternatives, must also include metrics, you have to know you are making progress. Alternatives must be supportable. That is they must be able to be resourced. Resources can include manpower, equipment, time, as well as money.

The alternatives are examined using three filters. The filters are, “Musts, Wants, and Risk.” Once your alternatives are run through the filters what comes out is the best possible decision based on your decision question. If one considers a funnel, see below, you have a clear visual of a decision making model. The funnel method I attribute to my mentor Dr. Alan Weiss. There is a significant amount of discussion on what goes into developing viable alternatives, which is not the purpose of this article.


Fear is the most powerful emotion we humans have. When it comes to making decisions those without a framework for doing so become fearful. They now revert to their favorite response when the staff comes to them for a decision on significant issues-“We need more data.” The truth is they need a decision making model.


Being decisive is a trademark of effective leaders. Do not let fear cause you to be caught in the “I need more data” pattern of indecisiveness. Use a decision making model. Do not question the decisions you make. There is no such thing as a perfect decision. The quest for one will cause you to miss an opportunity or end in disaster. Remember, should a decision made not produce the results you were looking for; you have a tremendous opportunity to make another decision.