decision making

How To Make The Right Decision

6 May, 2021

The vast majority of ethical dilemmas do not relate to large scale fraud or stealing. They are dilemmas we all face daily in the course of our work says Cranlana Centre CEO Vanessa Pigrum in this piece for Boss, Australian Financial Review. So how do you strengthen your decision making?

The term ‘ethical dilemma’ often conjures ideas of fraud, stealing or nepotism. These are big, obvious ethical violations and, in some ways, responding to them is straightforward. There are clear rights and wrongs and – usually – rules and codes of conduct which have been breached, but which also outline how to react.

However, the vast majority of ethical dilemmas are not on this scale. They are dilemmas we all face daily in the course of our work, when there are elements of power imbalance and when there’s scarcity or unequal distribution of resources – whether that’s of time, money or opportunity.

Being asked to use questionable sales tactics or withholding information are common workplace ethical dilemmas. How much information do you share with the chairman of your board or your direct manager? How often do you think, “they don’t really need to know that/it will only slow things down”, while quietly knowing that if you provided the full information a different outcome might be reached (but which might be less beneficial to you)?

In these circumstances you’re operating in more of a grey zone, navigating conflicting priorities and interests. It’s a common phenomenon in corporate life. No one is saying it is easy and sometimes you might not even be conscious that you are making unethical decisions.

American philsopher Joanne Ciulla puts it well – “Leaders do not have to be power-hungry psychopaths to do unethical things, nor do they have to be altruistic saints to do ethical things. Most leaders are neither charismatic nor transformational leaders. They are ordinary men and women in business, government, non-profits, and communities who sometimes make volitional, emotional, moral, and cognitive mistakes.”

Here are four tips to help you know if you have made the right decision. Always remember that your values are your strength.

Don’t just hope for the best 

In the same way you remain current with your industry’s best practices, ensure your professional development includes regular work on strengthening your capacity for good judgement. It’ll be one of the most important skills in your repertoire.

Develop your skills in making trustworthy judgements. Evaluate the facts and look at the alternative actions. Which option will produce the most good and do the least harm? Which option best respects the rights of all who have a stake? Which option treats people equally or proportionately? Which option best serves the community as a whole, not just some members? Which option leads me to act as the sort of person I want to be?

Test your decision with critical thinking skills, and then back yourself. It will also help to understand what drives the choices you make and any biases that you might have. Also learn to slow down your thinking when facing complex decisions.

Test yourself. 

If something doesn’t sound or feel quite right, there’s a good chance it’s not.

A useful way to evaluate whether something is right is to apply ‘the veil of ignorance’. Consider the issue that’s making you uncomfortable and ask whether you would be happy to implement the action, or have to live with the consequences, or have others know you benefited from it? Would you be happy to see them on the front page of the newspaper? If the answer to any of these is no, then you haven’t found the most ethical solution.

Consult peers or mentors.

A perspective from outside your team or organisation can help you more objectively consider the greater good and what needs to be changed to meet it. Are you a member of an industry or professional body? Are you an alumnus of a university or course? Use these networks to connect you with peers who will be able to provide you with alternate views. Talk with colleagues from other organisations or sectors whose judgement you respect, and learn from their experience. You will expose yourself to a diversity of thought and alternative lenses through which to view issues.

Develop and practice courage.

Tackling an ethical dilemma will sometimes put you at odds with others, so it requires courage. Accept that there will be pushback, particularly when arrangements which benefit some more than others are disrupted. Prepare yourself to respond with well-considered, well founded arguments for change. Familiarise yourself with your organisation’s values and mission statements, and align solutions with those values in a way which makes sense to the business and furthers its aims. Ensure your solutions demonstrate equity, are transparent and create accountability.

Equip yourself to be courageous. Techniques to help develop courage include creating and responding to worst case scenarios, and recognising whether you’re prone to focus more on negative than positive outcomes – and practising reframing negative scenarios in a more constructive way.

Identify what you’re actually afraid of and reduce the fear by talking about it, while learning from the experience of others who’ve conquered their fears. Practise going out of your comfort zone by speaking up when you see something that’s not OK in your daily life. Small acts of courage can have a cumulative effect.

Australian Financial Review, May 6 2021. Read the full article here.

Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership’s programs include the 2 day Executive Ethics, 6 day Executive Colloquium and year-long Vincent Fairfax Fellowship. We also deliver online and tailored corporate programs. Find the right program for you. They are all held under the Chatham House Rule to encourage genuine and open debate, and allow participants to candidly discuss sometimes sensitive issues in private while allowing the topic and nature of the debate to be made public, and contribute to a broader conversation. The alumni program offers ongoing leadership development support and a lifelong connection with Cranlana.

Photo by Silvio Kundt on Unsplash