FORBES: 16 Ways C-Level Executives Can Enhance Their Decision-Making Skills

As Cited In Forbes

One of the most challenging aspects of being in a C-level position is having to constantly make choices that impact your company’s success. Needing to make quick decisions all the time can start to feel overwhelming, and people in such positions may find themselves doubting whether they have made the right calls.

There are many effective ways for C-level executives to enhance their decision-making skills. Below, 16 members of Forbes Coaches Council discuss some of the best methods for doing so and explain how and why they work.

  1. Clarify Who Owns The Decision

Clarify who owns (or should own) the decision. For example, is this a decision the team should make, or is it a decision that the functional owner should make because they have significantly more expertise to make the decision? Second, clarify the decision-making process. For example, will this be a collaborative discussion and group majority vote, or a collaborative discussion with one decision maker? – Susanne Biro, Susanne Biro & Associates Coaching Inc.

  1. Know How Your Brain Works

Know how your brain works and plan accordingly. The default mode network (relaxed, creative, resting) competes with the task-positive network (focused, high-alert, analytical). Peak energy, stimulants and no distractions are your friend when you need to do a “premeditatio malorum”—the Stoic exercise of imagining what could go wrong—and decide accordingly. When it is time for a broad, whole-forest view and creative decision making, eat something and turn music on. – Alexandros Papanaoum, ThrivingLife4U

  1. Consider The ‘And’

We tend to think in either/or scenarios, and identifying ways to leverage the upside of two seemingly “opposing” points of view can get us to a better solution. Bring in people who are proponents of each side of the issue or decision and talk through alternatives. An open-minded question—such as, “If there were another side to this, what might it be?”—could lead to breakthrough decisions. – Kathleen Woodhouse, Nova Leadership

  1. Stop Looking At It From Your Own Perspective

The best decision-making practice I share with my executive clients is to stop looking at it from their own perspective. Their perspective is the natural default, but it’s only one vantage point. I ask my clients to imagine themselves in someone else’s shoes. We dive deep into that perspective. Looking at a decision from someone else’s perspective might not change the decision, but it could change the delivery. – Beth Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald Coaching and Consulting

  1. Gain Clarity On Criteria And Desired Outcomes

Leaders, especially those in crisis situations, need to resist the temptation to make choices based on personal preference. Rather, they need to have clarity about the criteria they will use to make such choices, based on desired outcomes. Strong decision criteria and clearly defined desired outcomes create conditions for successful decision making and make a leader habitually strategic. – Helio Fred Garcia, Logos Consulting Group

  1. Hold The Question In Your Mind Overnight

A unique skill to enhance decision making is to state the issue, problem or question clearly the night before without trying to make the decision. Just hold the question in your mind. This technique sets the subconscious mind to work on it during sleep. When you arise in the morning, clarity and focus abound, and the decision often becomes clear. This is a practice Einstein used often. – Melinda Fouts, Success Starts With You

  1. Consult With An Advisory Board

C-level executives rarely make unilateral decisions. I help leaders create “advisory boards” of trusted colleagues who serve different roles to enhance decision making: a devil’s advocate to think through and address worst-case scenarios, strategic thought partners to analyze future trends, supportive peers who help you emotionally, and operational partners to assess the feasibility of rollouts. – Loren Margolis, Training & Leadership Success LLC

  1. Forget What You Know

Forget what you know so that you can hear what you need to know to make a decision. It is human nature to start categorizing and contextualizing information. Be like a data analyst—an active listener. Collect all the “raw” data first instead of filtering it. That way, you can go back and look at that raw data again if you were asking the wrong question due to unconscious biases or assumptions. – Tracy Levine, Advantage Talent, Inc.

  1. Seek Input From The Lowest Level Impacted

Solicit input from those at the lowest level of the organization that may be impacted by that decision. Too often, C-level executives rely on the data and narrative provided by a direct report. Take the time to understand the perspectives of those who will implement your decision. – Thomas Frank, Ascend Coaching and Training

  1. Step Back To Assess Your Assumptions

It is important for leaders to take a step back and assess their filters, motivations and assumptions when making decisions. I have helped clients leverage and work through the “ladder of inference.” This tool helps them slow down and think critically about the process they undertake when making decisions because, at their level, decisions often have a profound impact on others. – Stacy Soria, Gladegy Consulting, LLC

  1. Start With The End And The ‘Why’ In Mind

Start with the end in mind and understand the “why” behind whatever project is in the queue. When leaders have a clear picture of the desired outcome, they can make and communicate strategic decisions along the way that ultimately enhance the entire project. – Cheri Rainey, Rainey Leadership Learning

  1. Ensure You Have The Right Data

Ensure you have the right data and insights from your team on the ground. Many executives find it difficult to make a decision—or make incorrect decisions—because of the filtered data that is presented to them. Spend the time speaking with the impacted areas, trusted advisors, frontline employees and customers to provide a comprehensive view of the situation and implications. – Stuart Andrews, SMA Consulting

  1. Remember Those Who Depend On Your Boldness And Courage

Many executives know the best decisions to make, yet struggle with the boldness required to make those decisions. In this case, it’s useful for executives to remind themselves of the stakeholders who depend on them to make the tough-but-right calls: employees, investors and even family members. Remembering that others rely upon their ability to act courageously is simple, yet powerful and clarifying. – Joseph Zito, (X)form Coaching & Consulting

  1. Use A Process-Based Approach

Using a process-based approach can significantly enhance executive decision making. Steps might include sufficiently identifying and exploring the benefits and consequences of each potential path, gathering the opinions of key stakeholders, and creating a decision timeline that also includes proactive communication of the ultimate considerations and rationale to all those involved or affected. – Christy Charise, Strategic Advisor

  1. Use A Combination Of Emotion And Logic

The art of decision making includes a combination of emotion and logic. Data is helpful, but it can also be overwhelming and biased. Intuition can be powerful but uncertain. Consider the possible outcomes, desired objectives and possible risks. As you develop more experience, you can make decisions faster. Practice by making smaller decisions first, embracing uncertainty and being willing to adapt. – Manisha Dhawan, MPath Coaching

  1. Access Your Inner Wisdom

Of course we want to make data-driven decisions and ensure collective buy-in, but none of that matters if it doesn’t “feel” right. Executives also need to be in touch with their intuition or “gut.” Learning to access inner wisdom can sound a bit woo-woo, but it’s a critical piece of ensuring effective leadership and follow-through that will ultimately determine if the decision was sound. – Stephanie Judd, Wolf & Heron

About the Author

Susanne Biro is a coach to C-suite and executive level leaders. She is the founder of Inner Life Leadership, an app for business professionals who want to reach an unprecedented level of personal understanding and corresponding leadership (and life) success. Susanne is an author, executive development program designer, facilitator, Forbes & CEO Magazine contributing writer, and a TEDx and keynote speaker.

For over two decades, Susanne has worked internationally with senior-level leaders in some of the world’s best companies. Whether coaching one-on-one or authoring, designing, and delivering leadership programs, her passion is the same: to help leaders reach their next level.

Susanne can be reached at 604.864.5408 or via email at


Our world has changed, rapidly and in unexpected ways. As the crisis hit, I offered and held pro bono sessions with leaders from around the world. And I want to continue to do what I can to help. As a result, I now offer hourly sessions to ensure leaders everywhere can quickly get the perspective, clarity and focus they need to lead themselves, and therefore others, well during these challenging and uncertain times.

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