October 2012: Seek first to understand.

In this ever-changing, chaotic environment, we often feel pressure to move quickly – to make quick decisions and take swift action. An unintended consequence of this fast-paced, pressure-prompted mode of operating is that we make snap judgments about challenging situations and people without taking the time to understand the underlying issues or drivers. Rushing to treat the symptom instead of the root cause can result in wasted money…and, ironically, wasted time.

As a leader, you must manage a very real paradox:  the need for speed and the need for thoughtful decision-making. Some decisions can be made with little input or digging, but not all of them can. When confronted with a more complex situation, seek first to understand, and then decide what to do.  A simple (and fast) approach to help you get to the root cause is “The Five Whys”-- a question-asking technique where underlying cause-and-effect relationships are revealed through five iterations of asking why.

You are accountable for your decisions, so when in doubt, pause and ensure you have a grasp of the situation before committing to a course of action.