Have you ever struggle with decisions? An important decision? We don’t want to get it wrong. Even worse, we’re afraid of looking bad and being second guessed? That means we’re struggling with indecision, or we’re suffering from decision precision!

Decisions are almost never as important as we think. Life, relationships, projects, or initiatives, rarely succeed or fail because of one decision. Anything of importance requires tens or even hundreds of decisions. No single one of them is very important. The path to the goal is winding. In fact, the only really important decision out of all of them is the first one – the brave one – to get started and pursue something important (tips to help you find your purpose here). Make the decision anyway – that’s what the best leaders – compassionate leaders do. They do the hard things. Especially when it’s not clear.

More is not better

Forbes magazine research found that the best leaders with the highest ratings and the ones who got promoted were also the most decisive leaders. More analysis often doesn’t lead to better decisions. There’s a term psychologists use – confirmation bias  – which leads all of us, even the most sophisticated people, to search for and interpret information that confirms what they already believe. So the more analysis we do, the more we’re reinforcing what we already believe.

For the vast majority of us, these aren’t life or death decisions – we don’t get to make those decisions. They get made for us. Just below life or death decisions are the really, really big decisions. The life changing ones. These really big decisions are often easy. When we need to make them, we are guided by our values and priorities in life. We don’t need to think much, we don’t even need to be brave.

When my wife was in a coma on life support, I had to make decisions – lots of them. For her, for me, for the kids. I didn’t have to think. There was no indecision. It was clear what was right for us. I just left work – for weeks. I cancelled everything else we had planned. I’ve made massive decisions about my life and my family’s life on the back of that. But none of them were very hard to make.

struggle with decisions

We struggle with the less important stuff

Yet we struggle with decisions all the time– recommendations at work, what school to choose for the kids, should I apply for a job, should I ask for a raise, what to prioritise, all the way down to much smaller things like when to stop editing a presentation or email.  They’re much less important than the really big kind of things. But we agonise over them. We struggle with decisions because of FOMO (fear of making mistakes) or not wanting to look bad, or concerns that people will second guess us. We’re being afraid, instead of brave.

The path to success is winding and often messy. It is uncertain, unpredictable. We will have to make so many decisions along the way. We’ll have so many chances to course correct. There is normally a plan B, and a plan C and so on. The only thing we know for sure is that if we don’t start, we’ll never get there. That’s why we need to be brave. We’ll face our fear of messing up along the way. That’s ok – that’s how we learn and grow.

James Stockdale, a POW during the Korean war said that no matter what happens:

“I control the end of the story”

That means we get to choose what we do next, and we choose how to accept what has already happened.

7 tips for the struggle with decisions

  • Make the smallest possible decisions – try to avoid the all or nothing decisions. Test things out before going all in.
  • Use data where possible (near enough is normally good enough – when we’re wrong, it is often by 500%, not 3%).
  • Otherwise, go with your opinion (you can ask a real expert for help if you have one handy) but it’s your life, you own the outcomes, you are going to do the learning
  • Work out what your plan B is if it doesn’t work – normally it is as simple as trying again with something else if you’ve made it small enough
  • Focus on plan A – think about how awesome it will be when it does work
  • Be Brave – Get on with it and start learning
  • Celebrate it – you’re being brave, you’ve made the decision, you’re moving forward, you’re learning – you deserve a pat on the back or a victory dance

Nobody gets it all right. To be honest, nobody even knows if it’s right most of the time – life isn’t like school. There are no grades. You can’t top the class in life. There isn’t a lot of certainty in this – it is just opinion. Remember – It’s your life – you get to live it. Don’t worry about what others think. Fear underestimates what you’re capable of – you’ve made it this far – you’ve got this.

Whatever you do, do it with heart!

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We all want to retain great people. But retaining great tech people seems to be getting harder and harder. As leaders, we’re battling a super tight employment market, huge wage inflation, as well as companies tying themselves into knots over return to office policies, flexible working arrangements and struggling with hybrid teams.

Instead of getting defensive or blaming the market, we can encourage great people to stay by actually making it easier for them to leave.

A recent study by the international recruitment company reports that an astounding 95% of people are thinking about leaving their jobs. I’m still stunned by this number. But even if it were lower, there are still a lot of people out there considering leaving.

People want to feel like they’re achieving something important

I know 3 people close to me who have resigned this last week to take up a new job in tech. I can think of dozens of people I know who have changed jobs in the last 6 months. There are a combination of factors behind each one. Sure – an increase in salary is one. That’s a given in the current environment. But salary is almost never the main reason. Speaking to these people, one common thread for all of them was this. They didn’t feel they were getting anywhere or achieving enough. They were worried that if they stayed where they were for much longer, it would get harder and harder for them to move on. So they felt they had to move on, before their prior achievements had passed their use by dates, and their resume started to lose its shine.

Nothing succeeds like success

All of them said that if they felt that they were getting more things done, especially meaningful things, they wouldn’t have been worried about their ability to get a better job in the future. That fear of being left behind wouldn’t be there. They would have been too busy growing, developing and achieving important things. The irony of this, is that the more we grow, develop and achieve, the more attractive we become to future employers. Yet at the same time, we’re more likely to stay where we are, in order to keep growing, developing and achieving even more! In addition, if you have a reputation as a team that gets meaningful things done, when you do need to hire someone, you’ll find it a lot easier to attract the right people.

There’s a great proverb for this:

Nothing succeeds like success.

So as leaders, how does this help us retain great people? Let’s break this down.

The individual team member

There’s a wonderful phenomenon that we can take advantage of called ‘flow’. This comes from the work of a psychologist called Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. Put simply, this is the mental state where we are completely absorbed in using our strengths on something important. We lose track of time. Flow leads to higher performance and greater satisfaction. Who doesn’t want to work somewhere where they get to experience that?

The team

Performance is contagious. We are far more likely to put in effort, pay attention to quality when we work with others who are performing. Google’s Project Aristotle found that the #2 driver of team performance was Dependability – being able to rely on team members to do quality work on time. Moreover, the #1 driver of team performance is psychological safety, i.e. feeling safe to take risks and try new things, is more likely if the team is confident in its own ability.

The team leader

Performance inspires confidence. A study from CultureAmp found that the #1 factor in inspiring performance, was confidence in leadership. We also know from a study by Steve Tadelis from the University of California that the best leaders are able to retain staff at a 60% higher rate than other leaders. As leaders, we’re already responsible for team performance. But this should add fuel to the fire. This makes it much, much bigger than just us as the leader. This becomes part of our ‘why’ – to help this individual team members succeed by helping the team succeed.

Compassionate leadership and the 3 Ps

As compassionate leaders, we’re ultimately responsible for performance. That’s great when things are rosy, but when they’re not, it’s even more important. We need to act. Even when it had. In fact, especially when it’s hard. Doing the hard things with heart is what compassionate leadership is all about. The question of what to do depends on the situation (that’s where a coach can help).  How to do the hard stuff is often about courage.

Courage helps us do uncomfortable things like performance discussions, pushing back on senior management, making tough priority calls. When I coach leaders, I help them focus on the greater purpose – something bigger than them. It could be the team purpose – the benefit for the customer, or the wellbeing of the team, or the consequences of not dealing with the hard stuff, which is normally a much bigger problem to deal with later on. When we aren’t able to retain great people, that impacts the rest of the team – they have to fill in the gaps until we replace and onboard the team member that just resigned. That’s a 3-6 month headache for the team and the leader.

The other thing I help them with is accepting they can’t always control the outcome. Only what they bring to the situation. Results certainly count. But so does effort and application. We miss 100% of the shots we don’t take. The team always notices when we choose to avoid an issue.

It works like this:

Deal with the hard performance issues (with heart) … that will both inspire confidence and improve performance. That performance and confidence now inspire loyalty and help people fulfil their own purpose in terms of development, growth and achievement. On top of that (yes – there’s more) performance and purpose enable psychological safety, which helps the team to innovate, further improving performance. Hey presto – we have a flywheel for outstanding team performance.

That’s the 3P model of compassionate leadership – performance, purpose and psychological safety

If you’re interested in learning how to retain great people through compassionate leadership and the 3Ps – get in touch here:

Please share this if you found it useful.

And remember, whatever you do, do it with heart!

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