How Executive Assistants and Chiefs of Staff Can Help Their Executive Overcome Decision Fatigue

It’s been quite a year. 2020 has pulled no punches. Many of us are stronger, more resilient, more centered and more clear because of it. And, at the same time, I am starting to see fatigue set in with my team. They have been running hard all year, doing what needs to get done for themselves, their families, their clients, their community, and their team members. Right now, helping my employees and team manage their energy is one of the single most important things I can do as a leader. Like with all things pertaining to leadership, it all starts with you.

As an Executive, managing your energy also means managing the decisions you make on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis. At some point, you just have too many decisions to make, and people coming at you from every angle asking for your time, your money, your advice, your ideas, etc. Decision fatigue is real. Anticipate it, plan for it, and do everything in your power to maintain your energy levels in order to be completely there, wherever you are, whoever you are with.

What is decision fatigue anyway?

Decision fatigue is not just another pop psychology buzz phrase. It’s real. Decision fatigue is the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision-making. And what do Executives do all day? They make decisions. Executive Assistants and Chiefs of Staff can have a major impact on their Executive’s decision-making capabilities, thus impacting the entire organization. Listen to this episode of our podcast to hear how to make the best possible decisions each day.

How to minimize Executive decision fatigue

The first step is to mitigate the number of decisions you make throughout the day. If you’ve noticed, top Executives often have a work uniform that allows them to make one less decision each day. Mine is a pair of Allbirds, jeans, a t-shirt with an inspirational message designed by my company, and a hoodie on chilly days.

What other decisions can you eliminate? Workouts? Meals? Can you organize your life (or work with your assistant to do it for you) in such a way that your daily choices become daily habits and you just don’t have to think about the day-to-day minutia? I think so. Delegate decision making to your EA as much as possible to help streamline the decision making process. For example, provide your meal preferences and allow your EA to place the final order. The same goes for travel, meeting, or gift preferences.

Once the smaller, low impact decisions are handled, it’s time to move on to more critical decisions. By understanding the best time and most effective way to prepare an issue for their Executive, Force Multipliers facilitate the final decision. For example, your Chief of Staff can handle all the detailed questions and help the VP formulate a strong proposal before bringing it to their Executive. Or you EA can do all of the planning for a board meeting and bring two agenda options to you – all you need to do is choose the one you want to move ahead with.

The 40/70 Rule for Executives & Force Multipliers

As Force Multipliers, it’s also important to balance the need to be over-prepared and to plan everything out down to the very last detail, with a sense of urgency to keep moving the business forward. Sometimes, it’s better to act than it is to wait on one more piece of information.

Take the 40/70 Rule for example. Former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, created the 40/70 Rule that explains this concept. This rule states that leaders should make decisions when they have between 40%-70% of the information needed. If you make a decision with less than 40% of the information you’re shooting from the hip. But, if you wait until you have more than 70% of the information you could get stuck, overwhelmed, and you may risk the productivity and effectiveness of your entire organization.

Force Multipliers must keep the 40/70 Rule in mind when working with their leader. If you wait too long to present a problem or issue that needs a decision to your Executive you might lose customers because they get impatient and go to a competitor who can fulfill their needs faster. You might have employees who do unnecessary damage because they are waiting for your Executive to make a decision. Or your company could lose revenue because you aren’t willing to take a risk on not having all the information.

You’ll have to analyze your percentage and weigh where you are at. If you’re at 20%, you have to get more information. If you’re at 80%, then you may have waited too long. If you are between 40% – 70% then you and your Executive will have to rely on your intuition. That is where the most effective leaders are born. Executive Assistants and Chiefs of Staff can get the team and information to between 40%-70% and then turn it over to the Executive to pull the trigger. 

Why one more decision is one too many

Executives make decisions all day, so sometimes having to make just one more decision is one too many. That one more usually comes from their EA or Chief of Staff. As frustrating it is when your Executive won’t give you an answer to something you think is cut and dry and one of the easiest decisions they will make that day (like do they want a massage or not), it’s not that simple. Decision fatigue is real and when it is a small, seemingly inconsequential decision, it will be easier to push off. As the Force Multiplier, it’s your job to remember the question and ask it again at a better time. Your Executive probably knows this. They may be okay pushing off a decision with you (more than anyone else) because they trust you to remember and come back for a decision at a later date. That isn’t always true with everyone else in your organization. 

How to Force Multipliers can move forward without a decision

So what do you do? Plan ahead as much as you can. What are your Executive’s decision fatigue triggers? Are there things that they always leave until the last minute to decide on? Gifts? Travel plans? Dinner reservations? Meeting agendas? Speeches? As long as there is no money on the line, book these or plan these ahead of time. Book dinner at three of your Executive’s favorite restaurants for business meetings and then cancel the other two once they are ready to make the decision. Schedule that massage for when your Executive lands in Austin, just make sure you put a reminder in your calendar to cancel the massage 24 hours in advance if necessary.

Pay attention to what is getting pushed off. If you have access to your Executive’s email and you or other people are emailing him questions, but they are just getting deleted, make a note of those questions. If they are not pressing, go over them in person in your weekly one-on-one meeting. This goes for meetings they aren’t ready to commit to or issues they aren’t ready to deal with. Make a note. Get as much information as possible and then bring it back to their attention in a few days or weeks later depending on how time-sensitive the issue is. By identifying their decision procrastination triggers, you can set proactive deadlines and timeblock for the time crunch. For example, if you know that before every speech your Executive likes to make last-minute changes, just make sure the night before a big presentation you plan for a late night at the office.

Navigating different Executive & Force Multiplier priorities

No matter how much you are on the same page, your priorities for the day may just not be your Executive’s priorities. You’re just trying to get your work done as efficiently as possible, getting a meeting rescheduled, making sure there is an agenda for next week’s meeting, finalizing travel, all the things that your Executive asked you to take care of, but they may be dealing with an employee crisis that you aren’t even aware of yet. Perhaps your Executive is stalling because it’s necessary to get a pulse on the organization before making a final decision. 

Sometimes, Executives just can’t make one more decision. Force Multipliers must understand the Executive’s perspective. With people coming at us all day, we feel like our options and our freedom are being taken away. So when our EA pops in asking us what time we want to leave for Austin or if we want to attend a charity function in three weeks, we push off the decision (which, yes, I know means you can’t get your work done), but we’re just not ready to commit to anything else that will take up our time. Try us again later. 

Force Multipliers, focus on what you can decide

So, focus on what you can decide for your Executive. Work within agreed-upon parameters and take those decisions off their plate before decision fatigue leads to decision avoidance and no one is getting anything done! Help your Executive by giving them options. Instead of asking an open-ended question like, “Where do you want to take the leadership team on a retreat this year?” Come with three solid options of where, when, and the activities available and why the group would enjoy each. Then all your Executive has to say is yes or no, and add in skydiving. Simple. Easy. Done.

Remember, your Executive should not be part of planning meetings (that includes with you). They need to make decisions, not plans. Help facilitate that process and you’ll be one step closer to that strategic business partnership. 

Where does decision fatigue show up for you and your Force Multiplier? What parameters can you put in place to cut down on the number of decisions you’re making each day? Can you delegate more decisions to your Force Multiplier? Let us know what you decide!

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