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5 Criteria to Consider When Making Your Next Big Decision Leaders must, at any point, be willing to make a split-second decision with potentially long-lasting and profound impacts.

By Jeff Boss Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Leadership in any capacity requires a laser-like focus, complete awareness of the problem set, and a willingness to "move the needle" when faced with uncertainty. Leaders must, at any point, be willing to make a split-second decision with potentially long-lasting and profound impacts.

The challenge, though, is that not every leader is willing to make such decisions for fear of it being considered "wrong." They think that once a decision is made it is interminable and irreversible, and that adapting down the road isn't an option or, even worse, they'll be fired for being decisive.

Related: Know When to Double Down in Business

What's wrong with this notion? Plenty. Here are five criteria to consider when making your next big decision:

1. The purpose of the decision

In the military, there was (and still is) a pecking order of priority upon which decisions are based. The mission always came first, followed by what would serve the team, and finally, what would serve the individual. The individual always comes last because he or she was always the smallest link in the organizational chain. Playing to self-interest serves little purpose, and that's not what a team or an organization is about.

2. Wrong is never permanent

Well, "never" is a strong word, but you get the idea. I've said before that failure is only determined by where you choose to stop, and it also depends on how that particular problem is perceived. The higher one ascends within an organization. For example, the same problem that appears tricky at one level may not necessarily be the right one to solve for at another. Seek as many viewpoints as you can to enhance your understanding of the situation.

3. Timeline to execution

There are internal and external influences that shape the feasibility of execution along a given timeline. Internal influences refer to the competency of you and your team to execute the decision in the time allotted, whereas external influences signify the driving forces that impact the deadline that you have no control over, such as weather, the economy or market demand.

You want to ask yourself two questions. First, "Is now the right time to decide?" If the answer is yes, then your next question is, "Am I capable of executing the decision?" If the answer is no then ask "why?"

Related: 4 Ways to Overcome Self-Doubt

4. Known unknowns and unknown unknowns

These are the constraints surrounding the execution of your decisions.

A known unknown is when you realize a specific intangible exists but can't quantify how much, such as traffic (if you live in Los Angeles you know exactly what I'm talking about). For instance, you're aware that rush hour in LA never really has an end point, so it could take you anwhere from 20 minutes to two hours to travel from A to B. The point is, you know that uncertainty exists but don't know how much.

Unknown unknowns are when Murphy likes to throw another wrench in the mix that you simply can't plan for, such as (continuing with the traffic example) a vehicle accident or engine breakdown.

Try to identify all constraints as best you can so you know how to align them towards the purpose of your decision.

5. Resource accessibility

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. The result of any effort will depend in part on the resources used to execute it, so be sure to identify not only the primary resources available but also secondary ones, too. Every decision should have a contingency plan for when those unknown unknowns arise and deem your primary course of action obsolete.

Decision-making can paralyze you if you're not prepared. Tackle your next major dilemma using the aforementioned considerations and feel better about the decisions you come to.

Related: Practice Triage in Making Business Decisions

Jeff Boss

Leadership Team Coach, Author, Speaker

Jeff Boss is the author of two books, team leadership coach and former 13-year Navy SEAL where his top awards included four Bronze Stars with valor and two Purple Hearts. Visit him online at www.jeff-boss.com

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