Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Listen to your 'gut'

The advantage of a startup is the speed with which decisions can be made, however this is the downside as well. By nature everything is compressed and what takes six months or more in an enterprise organization takes six weeks, six days – or more likely six hours, in a startup. This is an incredible competitive advantage as well as a deadly liability, with the only difference being how well-equipped you and your team are to make lightning-quick decisions.

Good decision making includes a few key factors – keeping a laser-like focus on the most important issues, being honest with yourself – confronting reality at all times, being sure to consider the positive outcomes not just the negative, and noting any and all assumptions. Intentionally missing from this list is data. Innovation is the norm within startups so information is always limited due to lack of money and resources or the simple fact it’s s never been done before.

Equally important, good decisions are about action. Indecision on any front leaves the team or company exposed and under-performing. Left undecided, situations can go from chaos (not good) to thrash (deadly). This is why you hear the axiom “it is better to make a wrong decision than no decision.” I’ve seen too many instances where the timeliness or lack of decision has caused significant and sometimes irreparable harm. At least a bad decision can be course-corrected whereas ‘no decision’ can’t be acted upon never mind changed. The only wrong decision is to not make a decision.

With little or no information and answers needed yesterday, what’s a leader to do? The answer: tap into that internal guidance system – which is really a snapshot of all your experience and intuition rolled into a ‘gut’ feeling. This is not guessing or gambling; it is using your ‘gut’ to bridge the gap between the known and the goal. When these decisions have far-reaching implications, the process is not easy. The key here is to trust yourself and convey your decisions with passion.

Being a leader can be a lonely job sometimes, but it can be the most gratifying as well – just keep your eyes on the horizon and trust yourself to listen to your instincts.

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