Decision-making is a thought process that results in the selection of a belief or a course of action among several alternative possibilities. Every decision-making process produces a final choice that may or may not prompt action. Ultimately, decision-making is the process of identifying and choosing alternatives based on the values and preferences of the decision-makers. There may not always be a “correct” decision among choices with the information available. Nonetheless, decision-making is about selecting the best logical choice from the available options.

Effective communication eases the implementation of critical decisions. The more participants in a decision-making process understand their roles and expectations, the more effective they can be at helping with and carrying out the decision. In the decision-making process, consider all the alternatives and weigh the positives and negatives of each option. Attempt to forecast the outcome of each option and determine what outcome is best for that particular situation. While most public decisions are made and communicated in a very deliberate and measured way, some decisions (individual or community) are less consciously made based on intuition, prior experience in the environment, available information, emotions, assumptions, and biases that may not exist at a conscious level.

In the book Your Leadership Edge, Ed O’Malley helps us understand that exercising leadership looks different based on interpretation, thus it’s important to generate numerous ways for understanding an issue and multiple paths forward.[32] Exploring and testing multiple interpretations and points of view are what Ed O’Malley and colleagues refer to as key diagnostic activities. Listening to the perspectives of others increases understanding and helps them consider other options as well as explore opportunities.[33]Two other dimensions, making conscious choices and acting experimentally, are part of the intervene skillfully leadership competency.[34]According to O’Malley, making conscious choices about the available options and acting experimentally is essential for leading effectively. Be prepared to try, fail, learn, and experiment some more.[35]


Effective Public Decisionmaking

Effective public decisionmaking requires attention to group process, transparency, and ethical considerations. When faced with significant decisions, leaders often convene a diverse group of advisors who represent many perspectives and information sources. The group is likely to include a variety of stakeholders including regulators, funders, trustees, various staff, and consumers. The group must acknowledge competing commitments within the group. In public decision-making, where the results may become material for media stories, remembering ethical issues such as confidentiality and conflicts of interest is especially important.

Decisionmaking Styles and Approaches

Members of public decision-making groups must master conflicting obligations, competing values, complexity, and social responsibility. There is often no easy or right or wrong answer. As the collaborative leader of the group, the state leader helps the group decide the most effective decision-making style given the circumstances. Outlining the various roles of the group in the decision-making process and helping members understand their responsibilities for decision results will help them determine the most appropriate decision-making style for the situation. The tables below provide an overview of different decision-making styles and information about advantages and disadvantages of these approaches.

Decisionmaking Approaches

Democratic Approach

The leader gives up ownership, and the group votes.


  • Allows each individual in the group to participate
  • May distribute power and lead to greater synergy
  • Can yield a fast decision


  • May limit individual or group responsibility
  • Less efficient
  • May yield “group think” (noncritical analysis and assessment)

Autocratic Approach

The leader controls and makes decisions.


  • Can yield a fast decision
  • Leader is responsible
  • Greater efficiency


  • May have negative effects on morale
  • May not lead to appropriate buy-in, which might impair commitment and execution
  • May ignore valuable ideas and insights

Consultative Approach

The leader invites participation but makes decisions.


  • Leader is responsible
  • Group is involved
  • May lead to more positive morale
  • May lead to greater synergy


  • May take more process time
  • May not lead to buy-in from group members, who must commit and implement decisions
  • Less efficient

Consensus Approach

The leader gives up control, and the group must buy-in.


  • Group is responsible
  • Group commitment
  • May provide for equal power between group members and leader


  • Less efficient
  • Complete involvement
  • May yield “group think” (noncritical analysis and assessment)

Steps in a Decisionmaking Process

Although there are many approaches or variations to the decision-making process, regardless of which approach the leader takes, the process itself includes the following steps:

  1. Define the issue or problem to be solved. Is the matter urgent, important, or both? If complex, break it into workable pieces. Establish criteria for success or evaluation.
  2. Gather all the data and facts and understand causes. Identify different or competing interests related to the issue or explanations for the root of the problem.
  3. Develop alternative possible options and solutions.
  4. Evaluate alternative solutions. Consider and compare the pros and cons of each option.
  5. Select the best option. The selection will be based on agreed upon criteria for success and processes (in other words, majority vote or consensus). Consider various analysis methods such as risk analysis, cost-benefit analysis, and force field analysis, as well as various values and ethical considerations. Avoid “group think” in an effort to reduce conflict.
  6. Develop an action or implementation plan with tasks, dates, and responsibilities. Explain your decision to those involved and affected; follow up to ensure proper and effective implementation.
  7. Evaluate the process and outcomes.

[32] O’Malley, E., Cebula, A., (2015). Your leadership edge: Lead anytime, anywhere. Kansas Leadership Center Press, p. 50.

[33] See note 31, p. 53.

[34] See note 31, p.54.

[35] See note 31, p.178.