1/22/2014 | Dorie Clark

For many middle market leaders, the decision making process can be fraught. Should we expand our product line? Acquire our competitor? Double down on social media? But Joel Basgall, co-founder and CEO of middle market company Geneca, a Chicago-based custom software development firm, says that big impact decisions don't have to be angst-ridden. "The impact of a decision shouldn't cause stress if you're moving towards your vision. Since I have a vision for where [the company] is going, answers jump out as being either right or wrong based on whether it will get me closer."

decision making process

Here are his best strategies for enhancing your decision making process.

Start with the vision. You can't make good decisions if you don't understand where you are going, says Basgall. But when you do, the way becomes clear. "I think most people would think that my decision to start a company or buy out my partner a few years ago were some of the most important ones [I've made]," he says. "But those decisions weren't major for me because they were moving me towards my vision of what things were supposed to be. They were steps along the way." The decision making process is an outgrowth of your goals.

Confirm your gut. You have your vision and you have steps to get to it; now it's time to confirm options for getting there. Which strategy is most likely to work? "I choose what I believe to be the best answer for moving forward without the limitations of reality. Then I get the data to support or negate that answer," says Basgall. "If I start with the data, I get trapped by things I could potentially change and that limits my abilities." If all signs point to yes, move; if not, develop another option.

Make mistakes small and early. In the decision making process, says Basgall, it's better "to fail small and early," rather than when you've already launched a major initiative. Taking small steps and confirming the course often are key. "Usually, you can handle or contain the risk of a choice by taking baby steps and continually confirming that you are heading in the right direction," he says.

Take decisive action. Some leaders become paralyzed by major decisions. What if they make the wrong move? Basgall believes that fear is misplaced. It's a myth, he says, "that decisions are a big thing. People think that there's a real choice involved with decision making. But, if I'm committed to a vision, I don't really have a choice. The right answer is the right answer and I have to move towards it. There really isn't a decision to be made."

Ultimately, it's about defining a clear vision for your company and moving toward it in a steady, iterative fashion. Ask yourself: Are you making progress toward your goals? If yes, keep going. If not, it's time to adapt. The most successful C-level leaders, Basgall believes, "don't allow themselves to be contained by the rules" of conventional wisdom and how things are supposed to be done. 

Dorie Clark is an NCMM contributor and a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her new book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter. Circle her on Google+.