At a recent meeting of women leaders in higher education, a colleague president observed that she is asked to make about 36 decisions every day. (You could see everyone else in the room trying to calculate their own tally.) But, she said, only about three or four of these daily decisions were really important decisions.
The challenge, she pointed out, is being able to recognize which three or four decisions are the ones that matter.
I’ve been thinking about this idea ever since. In some cases, I can identify the key decisions when they present themselves. Choices about critical hires, what projects to support with scarce University resources, and which new academic programs to move forward will obviously have an impact on the future of the institution.
But what about those decisions whose impacts won’t be felt until sometime in the future – if ever? Deciding to call a prospective donor at a moment that will be memorable and start a strong relationship? Striking up a conversation with a stranger who turns out to be an alumna? Stopping to help someone who seems lost on campus and later discovering that interaction made the different in a student’s decision to enroll?
There is no way to predict the downstream impact of immediate decisions. Perhaps all we can do is focus on making the best decisions when we know they are important – and being aware that even the minor decisions can have larger impacts.
For now, I’ll be happy if I can figure out the most important decisions I make, as a leader, today!