The Entrepreneur Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “When making a tough business decision, how do you know when to trust your gut?” is written by Frank Fabela, Vistage CEO peer advisory board chair.
Effective decision-making is a key trait for every executive to have. And any executive will have a gut feel for how to make a tough decision. But gut inclinations can’t be trusted, no matter how experienced or how intelligent the executive is. Tough business decisions always require dissent.
Peter F. Drucker revealed in his seminal work Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices how GM’s (GM) Alfred P. Sloan modeled this before one of his top committees saying, “’Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here.’ Everyone around the table nodded assent. ‘Then,’ continued Mr. Sloan, ‘I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting, to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain understanding of what the decision is all about.’”
The reason we must seek out dissent is that we are plagued with confirmation bias. Our guts (or opinions) tell us one thing, and we are naturally inclined to seek out facts to support those opinions. It is a vicious cycle. The more facts we obtain, the greater our gut feelings becomes and the more we are inclined to trust them. We cannot be expected to objectively seek out facts that support an opinion contradictory to our own.
Despite our gut feelings, we’ll be unprepared to make that tough decision until we can get a deeper sense of the decision itself—what the alternatives entail, what consequences are likely, and what other solutions exist. This only comes from dissent and disagreement. But because we tend to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals—people we trust and who think like us—we are readily subject to the dysfunctional phenomenon of Groupthink, which only serves to degrade the quality of our decision-making.
Moving beyond our gut instincts in decision-making requires then that we surround ourselves with a diverse set of trusted advisors. But they don’t become trusted advisors without a long-term track record of selfless contributions aimed at the best interest of us and/or our organizations. The more diverse the set of advisors, the more likely we are to find enough dissent to thoroughly inform a pending decision.
When disagreements arise, we must treat them as a gift, or we’ll otherwise develop a culture that squelches the very resource needed for effective decision-making. Expressing thanks to those who dare to challenge us (and our opinions, perceptions, and beliefs) goes a long way toward giving dissent a future voice. Alfred Sloan showed us that great leadership in decision-making thrives on disagreement. As leaders, we should be the ones who lean in to disagreement and who unconventionally seek out the opportunities to be challenged, precisely to the point of them wrenching our guts.
Questions for any executive to ponder are:
- Where are my best sources of dissent?
- With whom have I developed a trusted relationship with enough to listen objectively to his or her advice?
- Where can I contribute by being a valued voice of dissent?
- How can disagreements to my opinions be handled more skillfully so as to encourage them rather than squelch them?
The value of guided discussion on matters that make us uncomfortable—that really stir us in our guts—should not be underestimated. For it is when our gut reactions are challenged that we become the best critical thinkers possible.
Frank Fabela is an executive coach and chairs a Vistage CEO peer advisory board.
Read all responses to the Entrepreneur Insider question: When making a tough business decision, how do you know when to trust your gut?
Doing This Will Help You Make Tough Decisions by Suneera Madhani, founder and CEO of Fattmerchant.
Here’s What Happens When You Don’t Trust Your Gut by Gesche Haas, founder of Dreamers//Doers.
Here’s What You Should Do When You Have to Make a Tough Decision by Alexander Goldstein, founder and CEO of Eligo Energy.
Never Make a Big Decision Without Doing This First by Feris Rifai, cofounder and CEO of Bay Dynamics.
Here’s How Questioning Decisions Can Ruin a Business by Pat Peterson, founder and CEO of Agari.