Own Your Decisions

Make the best decisions you can with the best information available, and don’t look back.

My senior thesis was about presidential decision-making, focusing on Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and the mess that was Viet Nam in the 1960s. I was fascinated by how powerful leaders, confronted by challenges large and small, were able to make important decisions that could have worldwide impact, without becoming paralyzed by fear of failure, insecurity, or information overload, when I had trouble at times making far less weighty decisions. Was their secret simply hubris?

What I learned—and what I have tried to incorporate into my professional life as a lawyer and impress upon those I mentor—is that the most effective path to making good decisions and becoming a leader is to surround yourself with people you respect, listen attentively, question respectfully, gather enough information to understand your options, make the best-informed decision you can with the available information and guidance, and then move on confidently to the next one. And even though my examples 40 years ago were all men, I have seen that recipe be just as successful for women because, crediting a few stereotypes, it plays to our strengths.

By all accounts, women should be natural leaders and worthy decision-makers. Women instinctively initiate and nurture relationships. Women are good listeners. Women are willing to be analytical, but not at the expense of ignoring emotions. Women are willing to ask questions and are not afraid to take advice (directions, anyone?). Women prefer community to isolation and collaboration to competition. Women are willing to take the time to persuade rather than demand. And therein lie most of the ingredients for the recipe for successful decision-making, which leads to increased self-confidence, trust, and willingness to take risks and lead. Of course, the final ingredient must be to evaluate the consequences of our decisions, good or bad, not with regret but with purposeful improvement in mind.

My hope is that women will choose to set aside fear, insecurity, doubt, and indecision, embracing instead those traits that play to our strengths. Surround yourself with supportive role models. Trust your village. Soak up knowledge. Don’t shy away from making decisions—even hard ones—and don’t beat yourself up if the results aren’t always what you had hoped. Growth is, after all, an iterative process.