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Deciding? Make Sure You’re the Right Person to Do That

We make decisions every day. Little ones. Big ones. Sometimes we make decisions that directly impact other people.

Especially before making the latter types of decisions, ask yourself three questions:

Do I have the authority to make this decision?

A couple of litmus tests for this:

If the answer to either of those is yes, then the decision is not yours to make.

A note about the boss question: this also applies to significant others and family members. Basically, anyone who has a stake in the decision’s outcomes. Ignore them at your peril.

Another note about the boss question: it doesn’t matter if the decision falls within your sphere of control — if your employer-employee relationship didn’t grant you the authority to execute meaningful decisions within that sphere, then it doesn’t matter what the title on your nameplate says. For instance, if you’ve been hired to manage a team, and you’ve been told that you can’t make hire-fire decisions, then you do not have the authority to discipline poor performers. You don’t have the authority to promote or hand out bonuses for top performers, either. Those decisions are not yours to make.

Once you’ve established that yes, you have the authority to make this decision, then ask:

Should I delegate this decision?

If you have subordinates, or are in a position to hire someone to offload this work, then use the Eisenhower Matrix.

Basically, decisions get stack ranked like so:

Once you’ve established that, yes, you have the authority and you’re the right person to make the decision, then ask:

How much time do I have?

The deadline here is really “at what point does someone, or something, make this decision for me?”

This doesn’t mean that you get a free pass to skip out on making the decision. Once you’ve identified that you’re the right person to make the decision, you must do the work and make it. You have the ball. You can’t drop it. It’s your responsibility. But you definitely want to know how much time you have to make it.

I can’t remember who said this, but this stuck with me:

If it is not necessary to decide,

It is necessary to not decide.

When someone comes to you and asks you to make a decision, you must not, if at all possible, make the decision right then.

First, whether they mean to or not, the petitioner is likely looking for a decision favorable to them. Perhaps they need something right away to do their job. Maybe they’re looking to remove an unexpected road block from a task. The point is, if you make the decision right then and there, you’re likely only going to get their perspective.

If someone else is asking you to make a decision that impacts them, then you can bet your knickers that they’ll bias their request in their favor.

Find out how much time you have, then use it to do your research.

How much time you have will likely depend on a lot of factors, including the situation and your role. If the request is your six-year-old asking for another cookie, then you don’t need a lot of time to make that decision.

If you’re in a leadership position and your decision affects many people, then understand the impacts. You owe it to each one of them to take all the time you have. Your decision could affect livelihoods and depending on your position — actual lives.


When confronted with a decision, ask three questions:

The first question frames the decision’s scope. The second identifies potential training opportunities for your team. And finally, the final questions helps give you enough time to examine the edge cases and consider second order effects.

I write books and software. Opinions held loosely.

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