April 2, 2021

The Four Decision Making Styles: Which One’s Your Style?

You’ve probably already heard of managerial styles and leadership styles, but did you know that there are decision-making styles too? 

What are decision-making styles? This refers to an individual's typical approach in choosing the best alternative. This can also include how someone usually settles on a solution to a problem.

Learning about your decision-making style can help you grow professionally and make you a better leader. So read on to learn more about it.

RELATED: How Types Of Leadership Influence The VA Personality You Hire

Why Do You Need To Know Your Decision-Making Style?

Everyone makes decisions. In fact, one study shows that the average person makes over 200 decisions every day on food alone. If you’re a leader or a manager, you’re probably making more big decisions compared to the average joe.

decision making styles
Identifying your decision-making style allows you to understand your strengths and weaknesses as a decision-maker. As a leader, you should never underestimate the importance of self-awareness.

Remember, you aren’t shackled to your predispositions. Self-knowledge can allow you to maximize your strengths and address your weaknesses.

What Are The Four Decision-Making Styles?

According to the Decision Style Theory by Alan Rowe and James Boulgarides, your decision-making style depends on where you fall on two spectrums:

  •  Ambiguity vs. structure
  • Technical vs. social 

The first spectrum examines the decision-maker’s comfort zones. Ambiguity refers to situations that are flexible and somewhat open-ended. On the other hand, structure refers to contexts where expectations are clearly defined and where there are standard processes in place. 

The second spectrum refers to what the decision-maker usually values. If the decision-maker leans towards the technical, this means that they’re more results-oriented. If they lean towards social, that means they value group harmony.

Combining the two spectrums allows for four distinct decision-making styles:

  1. Directive decision-makers
  2. Analytic decision-makers
  3. Conceptual decision-makers
  4. Behavioral decision-makers

People who prefer structure and value the technical are usually directive decision-makers. Individuals who are comfortable with ambiguity yet value the technical are analytic decision-makers. 

On the other hand, individuals who lean towards the social and are comfortable with ambiguity are conceptual decision-makers. Finally, behavioral decision-makers are people who value social but prefer structure. 

Each decision-making style has its strengths and weaknesses. There are also certain scenarios that benefit from a particular decision-making style over others.

decision making styles

What Is The Directive Style?

People who usually engage in directive decision-making tend to rely on their own experience and knowledge to make decisions. They also base their decisions on standard operating procedures and rules. 

If there’s a usual way to solve a problem, that is what they will follow. They trust in tried and tested methods.

Their strengths usually include:

  • Usually makes decisions quickly.
  • Persistent in moving forward.
  • Doesn’t waste time.
  • Focuses on the task at hand.

Their weaknesses usually include:

  • Doesn’t normally seek advice.
  • Doesn’t tolerate unclear or abstract ideas. 
  • Discomfort in accepting other opinions
  • Isn’t used to thinking outside of the box to create new plans.
  • May seem impulsive.
decision making styles

Many directive decision-makers are no-nonsense kinds of people who can make great short-term decisions. They work well in situations that are stable and predictable—especially when there are already best practices established. The directive style may be less suited for more complex situations with a lot of moving parts.

Tip to maximize this style: Leaders need to have up-to-date knowledge on best practices in their industry. It’s helpful to create a database of these best practices for easy access later on.

"Each decision-making style has its strengths and weaknesses."

What Is The Analytical Style?

People who engage in analytic decision-making can only decide once they are sure they’ve considered all the possible options. People who use this style need a lot of data before they can move forward with a decision.

Their strengths usually include:

  • Complies available data.
  • Pays attention to details. 
  • Considers and reviews all options. 
  • Adapts to the information presented.

decision making styles

Their weaknesses usually include:

  •  At risk for over-thinking. 
  • Requires a lot of time to make decisions.
  • Uncomfortable with risks.

People who use this decision-making style shine in situations that are not time-sensitive and don’t have an obvious “right” answer. These situations benefit from exploring all of the possible solutions.

Tip to maximize this style: When gathering data, make sure to consult with both industry experts and non-expert stakeholders. That way, you get a well-rounded perspective.

decision making styles

What Is the Conceptual Style?

Individuals who engage in the conceptual decision-making style are naturally collaborative. They aren’t satisfied with bandaid solutions. Instead, they look for holistic and long-lasting solutions.

Their strengths usually include:

  • Recognizes underlying problems.
  • Integrates different options. 
  • Comes up with creative solutions.
  • Makes unique connections.
  • Willing to take risks.

Their weaknesses usually include:

  •  Translating ideas into concrete actions.
  • Planning and implementing ideas.
decision making styles

Vague situations involving unknown or evolving factors that require complex or multi-layer decisions can benefit from this decision-making style. These unpredictable situations often require long-term and collaborative planning.

The conceptual decision-making style is not suited for situations that require clear and immediate answers and solutions. 

Tip to maximize this style: Leaders need to give themselves ample time to experiment with different solutions.

"Leaders need to give themselves ample time to experiment with different solutions."

What Is the Behavioral Style?

Leaders who are group-oriented often use behavioral decision-making. Their goal is usually to maintain harmony and find a solution that makes everyone happy.

Their strengths usually include:

  • Considerate of others. 
  • Seeks advice from other people.
  • Engages in the consultation process. 
  • Allows stakeholders to feel included in the process.

Their weaknesses usually include:

  •  Discomfort with conflict. 
  • Can be seen as “people pleasers”.

This decision-making style is very beneficial in situations where success depends on stakeholder buy-in.

Tip to maximize this style: Leaders need to facilitate group discussions in a democratic way. It’s important to challenge old ideas respectfully. This paves the way for new ideas to emerge.

Which Decision-Making Style Do Successful Leaders Use?

The short answer to this question is all of them. Leaders benefit from understanding the advantages and disadvantages of the different styles. 

It’s normal for you to have a predisposition towards a particular decision-making style, but important to be aware of your biases so you can course-correct and avoid the pitfalls of your decision-making style. It’s also good to note that some leaders can actually have more than one decision-making style. 

Some situations may call for a more blended approach where you use strategies from two or more decision-making styles. Leaders should be flexible enough to adjust to the demands of the situation.

Remember, leaders should not be stagnant. Their management styles should evolve as their organization becomes more complex.

How Does This Impact My Team?

Managers need to know the decision-making styles of their team members.

That way, they know who to tap when different problem-solving situations arise.

It’s also helpful to train your team, especially up-and-coming leaders, about decision-making styles.

That way, they can collaborate more effectively with one another.

How Do You Figure Out Your Style?

Finding out where you fall on the two spectrums (ambiguity vs. structure and technical vs. social) should help you identify your decision-making style. If you’re having a tough time placing yourself along the two spectrums, it might be easier to examine your day-to-day life.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • How do I usually make decisions in my personal life?
  • How do I handle stress?
  • Am I comfortable with having many options?
  • Do I usually take my time to decide? Or do I need to have an answer right away?
  • Am I more concerned about the people in my life? Or are my goals more important?

While the work setting may be different, your answers to these questions can provide you with some important insights on how you make choices. If you’re still lost, you can always get feedback from the people who know you well.

Decision-making is a natural part of your daily life regardless of your position in an organization. Once you become a leader, though, the stakes are higher. Your decisions can have an impact on your team and your organization.

So it’s important to free up some time to figure out your decision-making style and learn about the others as well. That way, you can easily cope with the demands of different business scenarios.


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