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May 23, 2023
Submitted by the USPS Employee Assistance Program
Making decisions in a leadership role can be challenging. As a leader, you inevitably will encounter situations where there are no clear-cut answers or the ethical implications of your decision are ambiguous. Most decisions can be argued from either side and are rooted in a mix of assumptions and incomplete data.
Leaders must have the skills to sort through the complexities and, ultimately, pick a path. While navigating these “gray areas” can be challenging, recognizing they present a unique opportunity to learn and grow can help reduce stress and promote peace of mind.
Strategies for making informed decisions include:
1. Seek advice—Don’t hesitate to reach out to others for guidance when you encounter a difficult decision. Getting different perspectives can help you make a more informed decision.
2. Gather information—Make sure you have all the facts. Research the issue and seek input from relevant parties to gain a better understanding of the situation.
3. Consider your values—Reflect on your personal and organizational values and how they may guide your decision-making. Think about how your decision will impact others and the long-term implications.
4. Weigh the risks—Consider the potential risks and benefits of each course of action. Assess the potential consequences of your decision and identify any potential harm to stakeholders.
5. Be transparent—Communicate your thought process and decision-making criteria to those involved. This can help build trust and understanding, even when people may disagree with your decision.
6. Learn from experience—Reflect on your decisions and their outcomes to improve your decision-making skills in the future. Use past experiences to guide you in future gray areas.
7. Seek success, not perfection—Recognize you can’t always please everyone; gray-area decisions rarely have a perfect outcome. Go easy on yourself.
A Closer Look at Keys to Navigating the Gray
As a leader, when faced with complex decisions, it is important to have ownership and openness. Having ownership means being willing to make a tough call. Making a decision in a challenging situation may mean not making everybody happy and may have consequences in the work environment.
As a leader, your employees depend on you to make decisions in the best interest of the team, even when those are hard decisions. Some leaders become paralyzed when they need to make a big decision and may put it off or avoid making it. Don’t be stalled by indecision. Strong leaders do not let the fear of potential consequences keep them from making and owning their decisions.
Having openness means actively listening to opposing views and continuing to gather information to inform your decision. Openness is important when gathering data to inform the decision you need to make; it is helpful when communicating that decision to your employees.
Having openness helps employees trust and feel a connection to the organization. Openness makes you more approachable as a leader and helps your employees feel part of a team. Try to be clear and honest about your intentions and be genuine and authentic in your interactions.
Learning to Embrace the Gray
Learning how to embrace the gray areas can result in less anxiety and more confidence in yourself as a leader. When faced with a tough decision or a situation that doesn’t make sense initially, be curious rather than frustrated or judgmental. Be open to challenging your own thinking about things and embrace learning other’s views on the situation.
Very few things are black and white; learning to get comfortable in the gray areas can benefit you at work and outside of work. When navigating through life’s ebbs and flows, it’s human nature to follow familiar patterns that bring order and safety.
When we cannot make sense of a situation, we may become stressed, frustrated and overwhelmed. Navigating through the gray can help us think of more creative solutions by thinking outside our familiar patterns.
You may never learn to love having to make tough decisions and navigating gray areas, but, over time, it can get easier to make these decisions. It is normal to worry and have uncertainty when faced with these types of situations. But be gentle with yourself and trust and remind yourself that you have been thorough and thoughtful in making a decision.
If you find yourself struggling with being decisive as a leader or just want some feedback on your leadership style, your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is here to help. Reach us at 800-327-4968 (800-EAP-4YOU), TTY: 877-492-7341 or visit EAP4YOU.com to learn more.
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