Tips for making that tough decision

decision making

The other day I had a wonderful conversation with a colleague of mine. She had come to me for help in sorting out a particularly difficult decision she needed to make.

Together, we brainstormed some creative ways she could go about making this decision, and I thought I would share these ideas with you.

Some basic assumptions first, though:

  • This was a (personal) career decision. While these ideas may very well work for other types of decisions, I am not specifically suggesting them for anything other than a personal decision.

Examples of these types of decisions: Should I take the promotion if it means I have to relocate to Texas/Iowa/Alabama? Is it time for me to switch careers? Should I take this other assignment when I think I might be getting a promotion if I just stay where I am?

  • All of these ideas were likely suggested to me by the many and various wise teachers I have met during my life. Apologies for any oversight in attribution.
  • Some of these things may seem a little “wacky” for the average business person. I simply ask you to give them a shot. At the very least, don’t dismiss them immediately.

Some things it is important to keep in mind when these types of decisions come up:

  1. It is always important that you actually make a decision. If you don’t, you give the power over to someone else (see previous post on personal accountability);
  2. Be sure you right-size the problem. By that I mean do not give your problem more importance than they deserve. In most cases, if the choice you make doesn’t work out, you then have the option to make another choice;
  3. Most of the time, we know in our gut what we should do – any of these techniques I list below will likely only function to confirm your gut instinct.

So now, the ideas! I’ll use a hypothetical situation and question to work through each suggestion:

Hypothetical Situation: I have been offered a new position within the company. It is a lateral move into an area I find interesting. I am not fully challenged in my current position, but I am concerned that there does not appear to be any upward mobility in the new area.

Question: Should I take the new position?

1. The tried-and-true method of pluses and minuses.

How this might look:

  • New area offers more of a challenge
  • I would be learning something new
  • I am genuinely interested in the new job


  • No upward mobility
  • Might lose out on a promotion opportunity in current job
  • Risky – I might not like the new job

2. List your values, what is most important to you in life, determine which choice best aligns with this.

How this might look:

Current (hypothetical) values:

I need to be challenged. When I am bored at work, I am miserable, and then my family is miserable. While salary and advancement are important, I believe that if I am doing something I love, the money will follow.

3. Journal. Spend some time with a notebook, journal, or computer, and simply pour all of your thoughts onto the page. Keep going. Don’t think about what you are writing, just write. Many times I find that I write myself right into the decision. If not, go back and read over what you have written, and see if you find any clues there.

Some tips on how to do this:

  1. Ask yourself a question, then set a timer for three minutes. Write for the full three minutes without stopping. This is important – do not stop! Do not judge what you are writing (no one else is going to read this unless you let them).
  2. Ask yourself the opposite question. If you started with “Why should I take this other position?” now ask yourself “Why should I not take this other position?”
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 as many times as necessary.
  4. Go back and underline, circle, or simply take note of what seems to rise to the surface for you.

4. The “Why” game. This works best with a journal/notebook as well. Ask yourself what decision you want to consider first and write down your answer. Follow this with the question “why”. Write that answer down, and repeat this as many times as it takes to get to the real, underlying truth.

What this looks like:

I want to stay in the position I am currently holding. Why? Because it isn’t that bad. Why? Because there is stability here. Why do I care about that? Because I have ambition and student loans to pay off.

5. Talk it out. It often helps to include movement with this – going on a walk while you talk is a great idea!

There are some very important rules for this one, and these rules are incredibly important:

  1. This person has to be someone you trust, someone you know will have your best interests at heart;
  2. This person needs to be someone who does not have a vested interest in your choice. For example, do not talk this out with your boss who might be invested in you staying put, or a colleague who might benefit if you were leave;
  3. This person should only ask questions to help you dig deeper, and/or repeat back what they hear you say. They should use phrases like, “What I hear you saying is….” and “It sounds like you are really feeling….” and “So why is that particular thing important?”
  4. This person should be patient, empathetic, open, and meditation

6. Meditate or pray. I highly recommend guided meditations. If you do a Google search for “guided meditations for decision making,” you can find all kinds of free examples. You may need to go through a few to find one that works for you, but keep trying. Praying can also be effective, no matter what your religion. Simply focusing on your problem and then releasing it to God, the Universe, your choice of higher power, can be extremely effective.

One thing I particularly like is the Rotarian Four-Way Test. This is an ethical guide to be used in personal and professional relationships, and would be an excellent start to a mindful meditation exercise.

Of the things we think, say, or do:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

7. Finally, try changing your perspective.

You could do this many different ways.

  1. Consider the situation as if an employee was asking you for advice. What would you tell him or her?
  2. Take a drive. Put on some tunes. Go somewhere you have never been, or haven’t been in a long time.
  3. Get out into nature. Breathe deep. Ask the trees and the birds for advice. (You’ll have to answer for them, but then that’s the trick!)
  4. Call a friend who knew you way-back when. See what they think.
  5. Do a headstand. Sit on the other side of your desk. Drive home a different way. Anything to shake up that brain of yours.
  6. Jump on a treadmill. Try a walking meditation (Google can help here again). Or try out a new playlist.

I know there are many other things people do to help them make a big decision. What is your go-to method? I’d love to hear from you!

As always, keep it positive and smile!

Go get yourself a mentor!


Research shows that one of the most significant factors in getting ahead in the workplace is having a mentor, someone who is willing to spend time on you and your career. Bonus points if the mentor is a powerful and influential individual within your company or industry.

In my research interviewing many successful leaders in the financial services industry I heard the following, and repost these quotes from an earlier blog post because of their significance:

“Luckily I have a boss who is now really invested in my future and sees a lot going for me and I would say I am one of the lucky ones. I am one of the ones who is going to be put in a good position in certain roles and will continue developing.”

“I would say that [my mentor] is the number one reason for helping me get ahead.”

But how do you get one of these mentors?

I had the pleasure, recently, of serving as a host at a roundtable discussion for young leaders looking to advance their careers. I had a wonderful time and met some incredibly intelligent and motivated young leaders. The question came up, as expected, “How do I find and attract a mentor?” I offered, as a starting point, the following:

The most effective mentorships happen organically; they are not assigned by HR

In my own life, I cannot tell you a single success story of a mentoring relationship that worked well when it was assigned by HR (or some other group). I am sure there are situations where it has worked for others, but my guess is that they are the exception rather than the rule.

I do, however, have story after story I could share where a successful mentorship developed because of a personal relationship I worked to develop. These mentors have helped me understand the bigger picture when the world felt very small and mean. They gave me feedback when I was uncertain of my next step. They have coached me and guided me, and I will never be able to express the gratitude I have felt for their willingness to invest in me.

I heard the same from the leaders I interviewed. When they actively sought out and cultivated their mentoring relationships, it reaped a significantly richer, deeper, and more satisfying result for them personally and professionally. In our discussion at the roundtable, the young leaders agreed that this was true.

What this means for those of you looking for a mentor is that you have to go out and find one yourself. Do not sit back and wait for HR to develop a mentorship program. Here are some thoughts on how to do this:

  1.  Recognize that the vast majority of leaders are open and happy to meet with you, you just have to ask for 10 minutes of their time;
  2. Pay attention in meetings, presentations, anywhere you have exposure to leadership in your company. Look for someone you wish to emulate, or has a quality you admire.
  3. Reach out to this person. Ask a question, request feedback, share an observation. Anything to start the conversation. Use email to show respect for the individual’s time.
  4. Follow-up*. This relationship is on you to cultivate. Provide an update, ask another question, make a new suggestion. Just keep the conversation going.

Some examples for #3, as this is certainly the hardest part:

“I heard you mention X the other day in a meeting. I am particularly interested in X. I wonder if you would have 10 minutes to discuss this further with me?”

“I was particularly taken with how you presented Y in yesterday’s meeting. I am giving a talk in the near future on a related topic, and I wonder if you would be willing to give me some feedback on my presentation?”

“I am currently working on building my team, and I noted that your team works very well together. I wonder if you would have 10 minutes to give me some tips and pointers on how best to build my team?”

These are just a few ideas. Hopefully they help you to get started. Now, go get yourself a mentor!

*Just a note that some leaders are just going to be too busy to meet with you or even respond to an email. Be cognizant of this and don’t become a pest. If you don’t hear back from one person, move on to someone else.

Keep it positive and smile! Happy Monday!


Do it your way!

I spend a good deal of my time talking with up-and-coming leaders, and have had the honor of mentoring many of them as well. These folks are strong, smart, ambitious, and most of them know what they want out of life and their careers. At the very least, they know they want more. These folks are at all different levels of the organization, from manager all the way up to Senior Vice President.

They share future visions of leading large teams, of running major project initiatives. More often than not, they express a desire to make a positive impact in the world. One leader told me, “I want to be able to influence a large group of people, to help them realize dreams and goals they might not have thought possible.”

Which makes this next part all the more curious. I have heard from multiple leaders some version of the following:

“I am in line for my boss’s job, and I don’t want it/don’t think I can do it.”

The obvious question, and I ask it every time, is why? Why would these capable, driven leaders say something like this? The first thing to note is that they are not saying this because they have something else in mind. They are not, for instance, in line to be the head of marketing and would rather be the head of HR. I have asked, and I know this is not the case. Second, it is also important to note that in every case there is no indication that the individual is lacking any of the skills necessary to handle the job.

So what’s the deal? The responses sound something like this:

“I see my boss attending events that I have no interest attending.”

“The way the department is now, I could never run things that way.”

“The hours he puts in! And the people he has to talk to! I just can’t see myself doing that.”

“If the job entails doing x, y, z, then it just isn’t for me.”

The flaw in the logic should be immediately obvious when reading this objectively and from a distance. Up close, it is exceptionally hard to see. But here it is:

Just do it your way!

Being a leader means forging your own path. It is about using your own particular strengths and leveraging the strengths of your particular team. This will never (at least, not ever in my experience) look like what was in place before you got there, nor will it look like what will follow when you leave. In fact, because of this the leader who attempts to imitate the leader they follow is setting themselves up for certain disaster. No two people are the same, no two leaders are the same, no two teams are the same.

One quick acknowledgement. There may be a situation where there is a non-negotiable in the job description that just cannot be overcome. No one should ever feel bad about turning a job down when this is the case. What I contend, however, is that when it comes to leadership, nearly everything is negotiable. Don’t want to attend every function? Empower your associates to help out! Don’t like the way things are set up or organized? Rearrange it! Don’t want to work the long hours? Build in efficiencies and alternate work arrangements to get things done.

My suggestion is this: If you are in line (or could be in line) for a new position, and you hear a little voice inside tell you that you don’t want it or can’t do it, step back a minute and double check that you aren’t making assumptions about the job that just aren’t valid. Then

Go do it your way!

Keep it positive and smile! Happy Tuesday!

Leaders “Must Read” (#1) QBQ!


This is an unsolicited, unpaid review of this book.  I write this simply because it is a great book that all leaders should read!

I want to share with you some of the great books that all leaders should have in their personal libraries, and I am starting with my absolute favorite, QBQ! by John G. Miller. This book was given to me by my father while I was in my MBA program back in 2007. Since then, I have purchased more copies of the book than I can remember and passed them out to all of my management and many of the associates in my departments. I re-read this book often and find value in doing so every time. This book is an essential component to any leader’s collection.

The topic of the book is Personal Accountability, a quality that needs significant understanding and practice in today’s workplace and society.  The “Question behind the Question” (QBQ) is the question we ask after we have dismissed the questions that place blame on someone else, complain, procrastinate, or play the victim.  They are the questions we ask when we take ownership of the solution to a problem, when we make better choices.

Here are John’s 3 rules for asking QBQs:

  1. Begin with “What” or “How” (not “Why,””When,” or “Who”)
  2. Contains an “I” (not “they”,”we,” or “you”)
  3. Focus on action

In order to show QBQs and personal accountability, here are some lousy questions, followed by a QBQ (from the book):

“When will other people pull their weight?” becomes “What can I do to improve the situation?”

“Why aren’t my people motivated?” becomes “What can I do to build engagement and excitement for my staff?”

“Why don’t they tell us what is going on?” becomes “What can I do to ensure I have the knowledge I need?”

Hopefully you can see the power this brings to an individual. Instead of giving away control it puts the power directly into an individual’s hands to fix the situation. As John points out, the only person we can ever change is ourselves. When we don’t own our situations, there is nothing to be done! Nothing will ever improve.

In my experience, this is a hard habit to build. It is so much easier to blame, to play the victim, to explain our current circumstances in terms of what has happened to us instead of what we have done. But it is necessary. We must take control back and ask the questions that have the ability to improve ourselves and our world.

John says, “We need the QBQ so our organizations can be places where, instead of finger-pointing, procrastinating, and separating ourselves into “we” and “they,” we bring out the best in each other, work together the way teams are supposed to, and make great things happen.”

I highly encourage you to check out this important book, use QBQs in your life, and as a leader, teach your teams to do the same!

One other suggestion: I linked to the book on above, and encourage you to use Amazon Smiles so that part of your purchase benefits a non-profit of your choice.  Yet another way to make the world a better place!

Happy Friday!  Keep it positive, and smile!