As an intern, making decisions may not seem like an important part of your role, but it holds more significance than meets the eye. In particular, if you plan to lead in the future, you’ll need to take risks and a lot of this will rely on your ability to make a call—be it right or wrong—promptly. This is why decision-making is important for leadership.
Let’s dive into what the future of decision-making looks like and its importance in leadership, with insights from Karen Kim. She is the CEO of Human Managed, a leading analytics, cybersecurity, and information technology platform dedicated to facilitating and improving intelligent decision-making.
Decisions, decisions, decisions
We make decisions of varying weights every single day—it’s, after all, a fundamental aspect of everyday life, guiding choices from the mundane to the strategic. It involves a balance of information, analysis, and intuition to navigate the complexities of different situations effectively.
The issue isn’t that some of us are incapable of making decisions, it’s that we have fundamentally misinterpreted the process of doing so.
According to the Management Study Guide, “A decision can be defined as a course of action purposely chosen from a set of alternatives to achieve organisational or managerial objectives or goals. The decision-making process is a continuous and indispensable component of managing any organisation or business activities. Decisions are made to sustain the activities of all business activities and organisational functioning.”
It elaborates, “Decisions are made at every level of management to ensure organisational or business goals are achieved. Further, the decisions make up one of the core functional values that every organisation adopts and implements to ensure optimum growth and drivability in terms of services and or products offered.”
It is essentially the process of choosing a course of action from various options. It’s a skill that involves a range of choices, from prioritising tasks to problem-solving, and knowing how to do it fast but flexibly is the key.
We start by recognising a problem or opportunity, followed by gathering relevant information. We then evaluate different alternatives, considering potential outcomes and consequences. The chosen alternative aligns with goals and is implemented.
Finally, we go back and review it to ensure that the decision produced the expected results, allowing for adjustments if necessary.
Why is decision-making important for you?
Firstly, decision-making is not just reserved for those at the managerial level and above. We make decisions every day—albeit maybe far less risky than the ones made at the top. Yet making these small decisions, learning from your mistakes and then improving on your approach is all part of the process of building your leadership skills.
Plus, an internship is where you can prove yourself and set your career trajectory. If you really want to stand out, actively engaging in decision-making would showcase your initiative and willingness to contribute. It’s not about having all the answers but showing a readiness to participate in shaping outcomes.
Decision-making is a practical skill that is honed through experience and internships offer a low-stakes environment to make these choices without catastrophic outcomes.
Employers seek interns who can think on their feet, make informed decisions, and adapt to the dynamic nature of modern work environments. Your decisions—whether about task prioritisation or problem-solving—directly impact your organisation’s goals.
So, when you showcase your ability to make sound decisions, even in entry-level tasks, they take notice. This builds trust, which, in turn, leads to more responsibilities, leading to growth.
But it’s not just your career that you’re enhancing by working on your decision-making skills. It’s a great thing to have nailed down in your personal life too. The world is messy as it is and navigating it requires you to be firm in your decisions because uncertainty often comes back to haunt you.
We are overwhelmed with information
In the past, decision-making relied heavily on human intuition and experience. Today, enter the digital era, where technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) play a dynamic role. The question arises: how do we maintain that human touch in a world increasingly dominated by algorithms and data?
Previously, limited access to information and reliance on face-to-face interactions shaped decision-making. However, the advent of cloud capabilities and numerous apps has ushered in an era where the sheer volume of available data can be overwhelming.
“Before all these cloud capabilities and apps came about, it used to be very different because information was limited. People didn’t have so much access to data and information. People didn’t have 100 apps running in the background. They also relied a lot on face-to-face interactions,” Karen explained.
So, what’s the deal with decisions now? It’s no longer just about choosing A or B but rather, it’s about navigating this info tsunami and making choices that matter. The world doesn’t wait for us, and events keep popping up – digital transformation, new problems, you name it.
Information keeps flowing our way in waves and we are, as humans, more overwhelmed than we’ve ever been before. Choosing what to focus on is like navigating a maze, and time is too precious to waste. It then becomes a race against the clock, and decisions need to be quick.
With technology at our disposal, some think that we should be handing over decision-making to AI entirely in order to ease this situation. Let’s dissect that.
Are we handing decision-making over to AI?
Well, for starters, the staggering pace at which AI capabilities are advancing outpaces Moore’s law.
“Google cites that AI capabilities are doubling every six months, three times faster than Moore’s law. So, what used to be a straight linear graph is now exponential, and we don’t really know where we’re going to end up in a year’s time.”
This introduces unprecedented challenges and uncertainties. In this rapidly changing landscape, we are navigating uncharted territory. This doesn’t necessarily mean that AI will take over decision-making, of course, but it certainly is helping streamline the process.
According to Upwork, in ‘How AI Is Used in Decision-Making Processes’, AI technologies can “facilitate decision-making processing by analysing vast amounts of data, recognising patterns, and recommending optimal solutions. This can help decision-makers in complex scenarios, such as medical diagnosis or strategic planning.”
The article continues, “… this information should be used to inform the human decision-making process rather than replace it entirely. While the data produced by AI technologies can be helpful, it may sometimes have fallacies or errors. Human discernment should be used to evaluate the findings produced by AI and check for any potential errors or mistakes.”
Basically, while AI can ease the burden off of decision-makers, the human touch is vital to the decision-making process through uniquely ‘human’ insights.
So, what does effective decision-making and leadership look like in this context? Well, it’s all about ensuring that there is a healthy balance between using technology to process all this information and our own organic discernment when it comes to making a call.
Fixed versus fluid decisions
For Karen, as the CEO of Human Manged, it’s not the small decisions that weigh her plate down. The way she handles decision-making is by dividing her decisions into two ‘buckets’—fixed and fluid.
Fixed decisions are the bedrock decisions—-the ones that set the tone and are not easy to change. Think of them as the principles that guide your path. On the other hand, fluid decisions are more like day-to-day manoeuvres—-the ones that need constant adaptation based on the situation. They are agile and responsive.
To help visualise it, here’s a basic example: we need to hire a new team member for a particular role. The role comes with specific responsibilities and addresses a gap we need to fill. This is an unmoving requirement and a fixed decision.
The role can be elevated to something more, incorporating more responsibilities, if an ideal candidate brings a little more to the table than anticipated. There is some room to make this change as it is a fluid decision.
“I don’t start my day having a lot of decisions that are fixed. These decisions usually have already been made and the direction has been set. The second bucket is fluid. These are the decisions that I usually spend most of my time making every day and these are operational decisions, like what are the top one to three things that you have to get done?” explained Karen.
Don’t be afraid to fail
Decision-making is not just a skill, it’s a mindset. Interns who actively engage in decision-making cultivate a leadership mindset. It’s about taking ownership of your work and understanding that your choices contribute to the larger narrative of success—even (and especially) if you fail! ‘Failing fast’ is the keyword to keep in mind.
As Karen shared, “If I could visualise my ideal decision-making progress as a chart, it would be up and down—up being good decisions and bad being not-so-good decisions, but it’s moving really fast. It’s moving fast and the downward lines are getting shorter and shorter each time because I’m learning from the mistakes. We’re just making the cost of making a mistake smaller and smaller each time.”
You learn by making these mistakes and these inform your decision-making going forward. Think of it as the one time you got scorched by a match or treated to a nasty shock by poking a power outlet. You now know what not to do next time, saving you time and effort.
“You always learn by doing it. You have empirical examples. You don’t learn by just reading a textbook or reading about how someone else did it … Don’t get too attached to your decisions or the work that you’ve already done,” Karen explained.
“Don’t try and protect the time that you’ve already spent on something that was not optimal. Just move on because there are so many other decisions and problems that we have to face.”
Remember, decision-making is not a distant concern reserved for the future. It’s a skill to embrace, develop, and weave into the fabric of your professional journey from day one. Each decision you make moulds not just your career but your identity as a leader in the making. So, care about decision-making now and your future self will thank you.