One of the things that can quickly derail our ability to make decisions is the difficult, but necessary question: is this really our decision to make?
Often, when life is throwing difficult choices at us, full of unforeseen consequences and hard lines in the sand, we turn away from those decisions and try to make others that are less threatening to us. And one of the popular ways we do this creative displacement is by adopting the offenses of others. We get all hot and bothered about decisions our friends need to make. We become overly invested in choices facing characters on our favorite TV show.
At work, we often try to make the choices of our managers or coworkers. We think we should be running the show. Which, again, is just our way of avoiding taking responsibility for the difficult decisions that are in our control.
It can be difficult to figure out whether a decision is yours or not. Of course, there are plenty of extreme and absurd situations we both know are clear and you can drop them immediately. But there is some gray, some middle ground.
We like to think we are best postured to make every choice. We are well-equipped to decide how a project at work should go or how someone else should act. We know what the government should or should not do. Each person seems to have the market cornered on what is justice, wisdom, and prudence. We want to make all the choices (except the ones we don’t want to make, which we would like to be the ones to discern, thank you very much).
I read a book recently that talked about decision-making in an organization as a tree. The more vital a part of the tree is (say root versus leaf) to the life of the organization, the higher up the ladder the decision should go. So, if a choice going sour is a risk equivalent of a leaf falling from a tree, the employee should not be afraid to make that choice. But if the decision could cause the whole root system to rot, they should at least check in with a supervisor.
A friend told us about a sermon he once heard where a child-rearing illustration was used. A set of parents told their kids there were three kinds of decisions: one they get a view in, one they get a voice in, and one they get a vote in. The family worked through which decisions fit into which category.
Both of these are tools to help figure out who should be making what decision. When we clarify who is responsible, who needs to take ownership, we set ourselves up for better lives, organizations, and families.
As stated, though, the issue becomes our warped and biased perspectives. When should we get a vote or a voice versus just a view? When we try to navigate discerning these distinctions, we are often clouded by pride and our predisposition toward our own comfort.
The deciding factor ought to be this: what is best for the mission we are trying to achieve.
When we are talking about personal character, you are always the best one to make the decision. You are the acting force on your own life. So, with the input of others, you are always best postured to achieve the mission of character.
When it comes to groups–families, work, etc.–it gets a bit more complicated. Who on the team is best postured and equipped to make the decision? Whose choice can most effectively move us toward our vision? And, no matter what specific choice we are talking about, what are the supplementary choices each team member can make (such as providing research/information, not gossiping, being supportive, raising concerns constructively, etc.) to do their part in furthering the mission?
Life is an overwhelming array of choices. We often avoid the ones we can make by focusing on the ones we shouldn’t. Working through the question “who is best postured to make this choice” (in order to achieve stated visions), will help us find some footing in an otherwise shaky foundation. It will help us make sense of all we are facing and approach our own choices with courage, while letting go of the decisions that rightfully belong with someone else.