Karolina Numminen
Two women having a conversation at a round table in a cafe.

The Single Most Crucial Skill for Your Career

The internet is flooded with the essential skills you need to master to thrive in a world dominated by AI. With all this noise, focusing on improving our skills while juggling full-time jobs is overwhelming. But if I could simplify it for professionals across various fields and seniority levels, including entrepreneurs, one fundamental skill stands out – decision-making.

Improving your decision-making skill will help you see results immediately and set you apart because many struggle with this.

Surprisingly, we stereotype leaders and executives as the primary "decision-makers." Yet, decisions are a daily part of everyone's life—how we allocate time, where we focus, and which opportunities we take. Think about it. Daily, we navigate through thousands of choices, both trivial and significant. Each affects our work's flow and, by extension, the direction our job or business takes.

Most of us procrastinate when it comes to making decisions. But here’s a twist: inaction is also a choice with repercussions. And remember that being indecisive isn’t a personality trait—it's a skill or the lack of one. Thankfully, skills can be improved, and decision-making is actually pretty easy to master once you know a few basics. 

So, let’s talk about these basics. There are three levels to being a good decision-maker. 

  1. Conscious decision-making
  2. Accountability for choices: owning your decision and its consequences
  3. Knowing when to persist or pivot

So how to improve each of these three levels? Let’s dive in.

1. Conscious Decision-making

Making a decision loud, clear, and conscious is the most critical part of the process. It’s good to start by assessing where you are now. Do you think you are a good or bad decision-maker? 

Here are some signs that decision-making should be an area of focus for you: 

  • Mental clutter of too many unresolved choices.
  • Delegating your decisions to others.
  • Believing more time always equals better decisions.
  • Viewing decisions as strictly ‘bad’ or ‘good.’
  • Over-analyzing every possible outcome

If you recognize these points in your own decision-making process, it’s time to rethink you approach. You are the most capable of making the right decision for yourself. Nobody else knows better than you what is the right choice for YOU. Also, you can make great decisions spontaneously. You don’t need to know all the possible options and outcomes to come to the right conclusion for the time being. 

But most importantly, know this. Staying in indecision is the biggest waste of precious time that could be spent in action. So, let’s talk more about the pillars of powerful decision-making.

The Myth of 100% Certainty in Decisions

How can you know that you are making the right decision? The answer is.. You can’t! The world is too unpredictable and if you are waiting for 100% clarity before deciding, you'll be waiting forever. Just make the best call with the information at hand.

It’s also good to know, that making decisions is HARD! It consumes a lot of mental energy and our brain is programmed to preserve as much of it as possible. But what’s even more tiring is postponing decisions and eventually missing out on opportunities.

Beyond the Binary of Right or Wrong

Helping people make decisions is a big part of my job. A typical thing we get stuck on is the dread of making the “wrong” decision. I understand where this fear comes from, but I always explain that the only REALLY wrong decision is not making any. Indecisiveness leads to staying in limbo, being a bystander, and seeing all your dreams and hopes vanish. 

Remember that very few decisions are irreversible. And what makes a choice "right" isn't the decision itself but the commitment and actions following it.

Guided by Purpose

Having a purpose in life or work helps you align your decisions and eliminate some of the endless options. Especially at work, you could rely on your company's vision. Sadly, those often sound like jargon-filled, utopian dreams, although their original idea was to help weigh different options based on which one would better support the overall goal. 

So you have to rely on your own clearly defined personal, career, or business goals that can serve as your guiding light. If you find it difficult to answer ‘which option would bring me closer to my goal?’ the problem might not be your indecisiveness but your lack of clear goals. 

Careful Who You Let in

While asking for advice is natural, be careful. We often seek validation or hope someone else has the magic answer. Own your decisions and believe you can make the best decisions without others' help.

If you really want to talk things through with someone, try talking to a coach who will guide you with questions instead of giving advice. Or ask a friend to simply listen to you rambling without intervening. Sometimes, just talking out loud about our options helps us see the situation more clearly.

2. Accountability for choices

So, let’s move to the second level of decision-making. What does it mean to own your decision? It means to believe that you made the best possible decision you could at the time with what you knew. And now it’s time to act on it. It’s time to forget for a while that any other option exists. Did you decide to get better at programming? Okay, pick one course, one at a time, and fully devote yourself to it. Doubting and overthinking is just a form of procrastination. 

In other words, it’s time to commit once a decision is made. Realize that thinking “what could’ve been” is useless, and your time is better spent taking action to see what your decision turns into. Maybe this can sound daunting, but it actually makes things easier. 

The other day, I watched a new Netflix documentary describing the life of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The simplicity of his early life struck me. He saw a muscular guy in a movie and bought a magazine with a training program, which he then followed until an opportunity presented itself to get where he wanted to be. Obviously, training and staying disciplined was challenging, but the decisions and the commitment were straightforward. 

3. Assessing When to Persist or Pivot

The final part of the decision-making skill is learning to pause and evaluate when to keep going and when it’s time for a change. Inevitably, some choices will turn into a bit of a failure. And sometimes, your life will change, and the decisions you once made will stop making sense. But other times, we simply become scared or overwhelmed, and we start doubting our commitment.

We tend to ‘change our mind’ when a challenge comes along our way. Suddenly, persisting with the original choice seems too difficult, while exploring a new alternative seems easier and more attractive. 

Two thoughts on this topic that might help you get a different perspective:

Napoleon Hill wrote, ‘Successful people make decisions quickly (as soon as all the facts are available) and change them very slowly (if ever). Unsuccessful people make decisions very slowly and change them often and quickly.’ Think about which one you are right now and which you want to be. 

The second thought comes from Angela Duckworth. She talks about the idea that if you’re considering quitting something, you should decide on a good day rather than a bad day. This approach ensures that decisions about quitting or pivoting come from a place of clarity and reflection rather than immediate frustration or despair.

And finally, there are situations when you find yourself in a place that turned out different than expected. You should still at least try to change the situation before walking away. If you know you put in some effort to turn things around, you can get a closure and move one with clear consciousness.

Karolina Numminen

Want to improve your decision-making?

Let’s build your decisiveness so that the constant confusion and overwhelm become a thing of the past.

Book intro session

To Sum Things Up

With or without AI looming, decision-making is a crucial skill to practice. Your career will bring tough choices, be it switching jobs, letting a team member go, or closing down a business. Therefore, having your decision-making process figured out is essential. You can become a decisive person, all of us can with a bit of practice. 

Remember, every day presents a bunch of new decisions, from voicing an opinion to sticking with a task instead of checking the news. Realize the power of each small decision, and see your life change one choice at a time.

Karolina Numminen
Author:
Karolina Numminen

Hi there!

Thank you for reading! I'm Karolina, a career coach with a passion for helping people have fulfilling and successful career journeys. I love writing about all things work and sharing the insights I’ve gained from years of coaching clients.

I would love to connect with you on LinkedIn and continue the conversation. I’m always curious about different professions and career paths!

Newsletter

Join my newsletter to get free career tips straight to your inbox.

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram