Some difficult decisions aren't really difficult at all

There’s no such thing as a wrong decision

difficult decisions are, well, difficult
Hmmm…swipe left? Swipe right? Sack comms team?

Have you ever felt utterly paralysed by a difficult decision you had to make? You wrote your long list of pros and cons. You did complicated prioritisation grid thingies, listing elements and weightings. And yet, you were none the wiser about what you should actually do.

It’s a nightmare, isn’t it?

If this is you, then you’re getting caught up in what I call ‘no-win’ decision-making. This is when you’re so focused on what might go wrong that it’s quite impossible to make any decision at all.

I encourage my coaching clients to think differently. I help them see that when they take a ‘no-lose’ approach to difficult decisions there is no such thing as a ‘wrong’ one. And once they realise that, it’s truly liberating. Here’s why.

Mistake alert

There’s a really good reason why we’re afraid to make a decision – we worry about making a mistake. When you focus on the fact that it’s possible to make a wrong decision, all sorts of ‘what ifs’ crop up. What if this isn’t the right thing to do? What if it all goes horribly wrong? What if I can’t cope with the fall-out?

The no-lose decision-making model

When you believe that no decision is ever really ‘wrong’, then there are only ‘goodies’ and learnings to be had from whatever decision you make.

So, for example, if you make one particular decision about how you can turn around your underperforming IT team, you get one set of things to learn. If you go down another path, you get another set. All of them rich, learning experiences.

It can be a frightening way to go about things at first. Surely there must be some decisions that are just plain wrong?* But when you make decisions from this position you find yourself making ‘better’ ones. Facing the future with power, responsibility and trust in yourself feels great and is the very best space from which to make a difficult decision.

Be brave!

Some difficult decisions aren't really difficult at allI used to torture myself over difficult decisions, not least whether to give up my well-paid job at the National Trust (I did!). I would wonder and wonder what the 100% right decision was, totally convinced that there must be one if I just thought hard enough.

But once I realised that there is no such thing as a wrong decision it allowed me to be braver, to take radical, innovative decisions in the knowledge that even if they didn’t work out as expected, there was still a bunch of juicy learning to be had. So what if you don’t know exactly what strategy is 100% guaranteed to turn around your charity’s dip in income? Make a decision, it’s all learning. Should you accept that funding with so many restrictions attached? Make a decision, it’s all learning.

This is when truly positive change happens. Which is after all, what we’re all about.

Over to you

So, what do you think? Has fearful thinking limited your ability to make difficult decisions? What’s your take on the idea that there’s no such thing as a wrong decision? Do please share by commenting in the reply box below. I’d love to hear from you.

What next?

The ability to make difficult decisions is a vital skill for leaders and one which many find a challenge – just last week I coached a chief executive around an important decision she wishes she’d made differently. If you want support on how you (or your team) can make more confident decisions and develop other essential leadership skills, call me on 0208 772 7808 or 07958 501 427, or email to see how coaching can help. I have a few vacancies for December.

*Yep, I agree. It seems the American people have made a fairly major wrong decision this week. But even this decision may turn out to have its goodies…we just may not be able to see them quite yet!



6 responses to “There’s no such thing as a wrong decision”

  1. Nina Cooke avatar

    Great post. I completely agree. There are no wrong decisions or mistakes or failures – just great learnings.

  2. Lesley Adams avatar
    Lesley Adams

    Great post Katie! I’ve been awful at decision-making for ever since i can remember. I think I’ve always thought that I must choose the BEST option and of course this means i have to weigh up ALL the pros and cons of each (many of which I’ll never know). This will be really helpful next time I find myself paralysed by a decision.

  3. Fiona McAlister avatar
    Fiona McAlister

    A friend once helped me through a very emotionally difficult period when I was facing life changing decisions, with this advice, “You don’t need to be able to see the end of the journey yet. Just start the journey by making one decision. Make that decision, and then move on to the next, and then the next – one at a time, without focusing beyond that.” It was truly a blessed piece of advice that I followed. That approach feels like part of your ‘no lose’ model, Katie.

  4. Katie Duckworth avatar
    Katie Duckworth

    Love it! And love that you were able to do that. It’s not easy – we have such a need to know exactly where we’re going – but the learning is tremendous, not least because you learn to trust yourself and whatever comes your way.

  5. Katie Duckworth avatar
    Katie Duckworth

    Thank you Lesley, I’m so glad you liked it. Let us know how you get on!

  6. Katie Duckworth avatar
    Katie Duckworth

    Thanks for posting, Nina. I’m so glad it resonated.