Executives are constantly making decisions that have a huge impact on their companies, employees, and industry. Okta (NASDAQ:OKTA) co-founder and CEO Todd McKinnon is no different.
Under McKinnon’s leadership, the workplace cybersecurity company has grown from a two-person startup founded in 2009 (by McKinnon and COO Frederic Kerrest) to a $27 billion publicly-traded giant with over 100 million users.
In a recent tweet thread, McKinnon shared the decision-making process he uses to make tough calls. “Before I was a CEO, I made decisions faster,” McKinnon wrote. “But now, I have the final call so I find myself pondering things more.”
McKinnon started off by explaining that not all decisions need to be made by the CEO. For less important decisions, he recommends delegating. “I identify what decisions I need to make and what I don’t,” McKinnon wrote. “I think of my job as figuring out which 5 or 6 critical decisions I need to make and get a high hit rate on them. 4 or 5 out of 6 = great. 2 for 6, not good.”
McKinnon describes himself as a logical thinker, which means fact-based decisions will always trump gut reactions. “You’ll only make the right big decisions if you do the research,” he wrote. “You need to constantly gather information and seek other’s knowledge so you’re ready when called upon.”
3. Seek perspective
Like all good leaders, McKinnon isn’t afraid to ask for a second or third opinion. “I gather opinions, but not from the same people - who I go to depends on the decision,” he wrote. “The more advice the better. I don’t want to lead the witness, so I try to be very “balanced” in how I ask the question. Bias is context you have to factor into their input.”
4. Play devil’s advocate
Inevitably, when seeking other opinions, you’ll find one diametrically opposed to your own. “To make good decisions, you have to be good at holding opposing views in your head and seeing things from both sides,” McKinnon wrote. “I’m a very logical thinker, so I’m good at arguing with myself.”
5. Do a sanity check
Occasionally, CEOs encounter no pushback from employees when making a decision, which can mean one of two things: the decision is a good one, or employees aren’t comfortable disagreeing with their superiors. “How will a particular decision be received?” McKinnon continued. “I question the decision more if most people agree with it / if it will be well received. A quick sanity check to see if I’m making the right hard call or doing what might be popular?”
McKinnon also takes alternate scenarios into account when making decisions. “Think about what the evidence would be IF you’ve made the WRONG decision/choice. This helps you think through what could cause the decision to be wrong, which helps you maybe re-evaluate the assumptions that led to that decision,” McKinnon wrote.
Bill Gates has spoken about his own decision-making in a similar vein. Gates says a certain amount of uncertainty is expected, and leaders should get comfortable with it.
7. Be objective
The decision-making process doesn’t end when the decision is made — McKinnon advises following through. “Once you make a decision, be objective in evaluating the result," he wrote. "Did you get it right? Sometimes 'right' was actually 'wrong' but the market was forgiving. It can be hard to recognize the difference, but being objective will improve your decision hit rate over time.”