How Leaders Can Make Thoughtful, Confident Decisions

Leaders must learn how to make the future in the midst of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. It is hard to even think about the future if you are overwhelmed by the present, but that is exactly the time when foresight can be most practical. Looking to distant possibilities can provide new insight for the present.

Some leaders will judge too soon and draw simplistic conclusions while others will decide too late and pay a price for their lack of courage or inaction. Some will be overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness while others will become cynical and question everything around them.

Leaders need not be overwhelmed by the volatile world around them. They must have the skills to take advantage of those opportunities, as well as the agility to sidestep the dangers.

Leadership is more preparation than planning. Planning relies on predictability. But preparation helps leaders stay clear amid uncertainty. Planning assumes continuity; preparation equips leaders to be flexible enough to seize opportunity.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Problem Solved, by Cheryl Strauss Einhorn

It can be messy and overwhelming to figure out how to solve thorny problems. Where do you start? How do you know where to look for information and evaluate its quality and bias? How can you feel confident that you are making a careful and thoroughly researched decision?

Whether you are deciding between colleges, navigating a career decision, helping your aging parents find the right housing, or expanding your business, Problem Solved will show you how to use the powerful Area Method to make complex personal and professional decisions with confidence and conviction.

Einhorn’s Area Method coaches you to make smarter, better decisions because it:

  • Recognizes that research is a fundamental part of decision-making and breaks down the process into a series of easy-to-follow steps.
  • Solves for problematic mental shortcuts such as bias, judgment, and assumptions.
  • Builds in strategic stops that help you chunk your learning, stay focused, and make your work, work for you.
  • Provides a flexible and repeatable process that acts as a feedback loop.Life is filled with uncertainty, but that uncertainty needn’t hobble us. Problem Solvedoffers a proactive way to work with, and work through, ambiguity to make thoughtful, confident decisions despite our uncertain and volatile world.


Leaders must learn to navigate the space between deciding too soon, or deciding too late, and lean toward action.

Careful reflection is critical in the decision-making process, so you don’t judge too prematurely and risk judging incorrectly.

On the opposite side, deciding too late is the classic mistake of those who love to study but have trouble getting around to deciding what to do with their research results.

Leaders need to lean toward action and not just lean back and ponder the dilemma they face.

One way to do that is to have a process that will help you and your team with an intentional decision-making process.

Decision-making is about ideas, but ideas aren’t enough. There is an important gap between having ideas and making good decisions about what to do with those ideas. Use the AREA Method to help navigate the decision process.

The first “A” stands for “Absolute,” which refers to primary, uninfluenced information from the sources at the center of your research and decision-making process.

The “R” stands for “Relative,” and refers to the perspectives of outsider around your research. It is secondary information, or information that has been filtered through sources connected to your subject.

The “E” stands for “Exploration” and “Exploitation,” and they are the twin engines of creativity – one is about expanding your research and the other is about depth. Exploration asks you to listen to other peoples’ perspectives by developing sources and interviewing. Exploitation asks you to focus inward, on you as the decision-maker, to examine how you process information, examining and challenging your own assumptions and judgment.

The second “A” stands for “Analysis,” and synthesized all of these perspectives, processing and interpreting the information you’ve collected.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn, Problem Solved


Work through the AREA decision-making process outlined above with your team by choosing a decision you are facing. Discuss the questions below, writing answers to each area on a separate chart tablet.

A – Absolute

  • What are the critical entities involved in this decision?
  • Who are the critical people at these entities? What is their involvement and impact?
  • What does it mean as it relates to your decision?

R – Relative

  • What information is available from outside sources concerning the factors of your decision?
  • Does the emerging story explain why and how these factors will affect your decision?
  • What are the source’s incentives or biases? How are they reflected in the stories told by the source?

E – Exploration

  • What kind of answers do I need to make the decision?
  • What do I want to find out and why?
  • How do I expect to use the information I gather?

E – Exploitation

  • How might you display your decisions “big picture” and or details?
  • Can you connect your new information to existing knowledge in a chart, table, or graph?
  • Can you craft questions that you still need answered?

A – Analysis

  • What could cause the decision to fail?
  • What actions might you take if one or several of the events that could cause failure begin to play out?
  • At what point might you need to reevaluate the decision?

By following the AREA Method, your team will be able to better articulate your path to success. The thoughtful, confident decisions, anchored in research, will help you articulate the what, why, and the how of your decision-making in ways that resonate with others.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 76-2, issued September 2017.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<




The Geometry of Choice

Take a look at almost any decision-making reference in a book or magazine and what do you see? Most likely a matrix with one desirable feature across the top and another down the side. Conventional wisdom says you read the matrix in straight lines – you have to choose which feature you’re going to favor.

What if you chose both?

I first came across this idea in Jim Collins’ classic book “Good to Great.” Since then, many writers have used the phrase “both/and” to refer to decision-making that references both issues in a choice. Alan Webber, writing in “Rules of Thumb” states it this way:

We’ve moved from an either/or past to a both/and future.

One of the skills that defines an entrepreneur and an innovator is the capacity to generate new lines of sight. That mean looking at problems along a new dimension. It means rejecting old either/or choices and finding new both/and combinations.

It’s like the game of chess. Most of the plays involve moving pieces forward or backward or sideways. But the bishop? It’s a game changer because it moves on the diagonal. Now you have the ability to move across and up on the board at the same time. You have changed the geometry of choice with one move.

How are you going to put into practice the skill of making “both/and” decisions in your organization today?

Drowning in Data?

How frequently does data overload affect you?



Christopher Frank and Paul Magnone, authors of Drinking from the Fire Hose, want you to take a short quiz. Answer each question with either “frequently” or “infrequently.” Give yourself one point for each time you answer “frequently.” If you score a 5 or higher, you probably want to come back tomorrow to look at some excerpts of their solution to drowning in data.

  • How often do you sit through a meeting that’s more about reporting the numbers than about learning from them?
  • How often do you leave a meeting with more questions than answers?
  • How often do your colleagues spend more time presenting the data than they do discussing the implications?
  • How often do you feel that preexisting beliefs affect the way data is interpreted?
  • Once the results are reported, how often does the conversation end up going down the dame old path instead of developing any new insights?
  • How often do you see data cited to confirm a point of view instead of to spark fresh insight?
  • How often do you learn nothing actionable from a data set?
  • How often do you feel you have to make a decisions before you’ve been able to review all the data at hand?
  • How often do you feel that you could make better decision for the organization if you just had a little more time?

Tomorrow: How to find truly essential nuggets of information and use them with confidence.