Solid and Ethical Decision-Making

Section A, Part 4

Decisions that student leaders make may not always be the correct one, but when decisions are made through a solid process and based on thoughtful and logical conclusions, the chances of rendering successful solutions are increased.

We make hundreds of decisions every day and some require more thought than others. Making simple decisions such as which shirt to wear or who to ride with to school doesn’t require too much thought.  Deciding what charity to support or how to organize a schoolwide fundraiser will take more effort.

When faced with making more difficult and important decisions, use this simple 5-step process.

  1. Start by defining the decision. State what must be decided, then ignore unimportant bits of information and focus on the main decision at hand.
  2. Review your values and the resources you have available. Your values direct your behavior and what you desire will control how you act. The resources you can access can determine how you proceed and the limitations you may have.
  3. Identify more than one solution. Considering all options gives you choices and alternatives that may be needed should you find you cannot pursue your first choice.
  4. Pick the solution that makes the most sense for the situation. To find this solution, start by eliminating any other solution that could be troublesome, lead to additional problems, and any that don’t hold up to your values.
  5. After making your decision, review it periodically to make sure you continue on the right course and to determine if you need to make any adjustments.

As a student leader, you should be able to feel good about the decisions you make. Don’t confuse feeling good with being happy though. There will be those times that you have to make decisions that are tough and may upset some other people. But even in those times, you should try to make decisions that you can feel good about and know that you made what you felt was the right choice given the circumstance and the information you had.

Decisions that you make should also be lawful and not put students or others in situations that would jeopardize their health, safety, or create a legal situation. In most cases, you will intuitively know when a decision or solution you are considering is wrong, because your conscience will start waving a red flag in your head, telling you “no.”  Other times, the right decision may not be as clear. For those times, consider three simple questions.

Is it legal? Will my decision violate any policy or law?

No decision should compromise the integrity of others who support it or coerce them to abandon their values or participate in illegal activities.

Is it a balanced? Does it promote a win-win situation?

Decisions should be fair and rational. Those that would result in a “big winner” or “big loser” should be avoided.

How will it make you feel about yourself? Would your family be proud of your decision?

If you make a decision and would be embarrassed to have it published for others to read about it, that decision is probably not the one you should make.

Used with permission from XCEL Center: The Center for Excellence in Student Leadership, Binghamton University, 1994

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