We recently asked Melissa Witheriff to share her thoughts on better decision making.

As a curious innovator, Melissa has found her calling in connecting people, ideas and opportunities to create value.  She is a strategic thinker and if there is a better, more efficient, or more engaging way to do something, she will be the first one off the blocks. She is currently a board member of the Service Innovation Alliance (SIA) Advisory Board for the University of Queensland. She has more than 20 years of leadership experience across non-for-profit, government, and corporate environments. Her experience spans sectors such as Finance, Insurance, Mobility (Integrated Transport and Road infrastructure), Public Works, IT, Education and Retail. She is currently employed as the Head of Digital Innovation at CUA.

What is your favourite, or most used, inspirational quote?

The quote that resonates for me when I think of decision making is an extract from the Robert Frost poem – Road not taken.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference”

What does great decision making look and feel like for you?

In my experience, the right organizational environment is a prerequisite for excellent decision making. An ambidextrous organisation (that is, one that runs today’s business whilst creating the business of tomorrow) is a powerful catalyst for success, particularly for decision-makers who adopt a growth mindset and are nimble. For me, great decision makers are passionate about building great businesses, producing growth engines to take calculated bets, not wild gambles. It’s about using evidence base built through insight, data and experimentation to deepen confidence in assumptions to inform better decision making.

When was a time you were at your decision making best?

In my opinion, some of my best decisions have been elicited by the current COVID environment. The pandemic called for rapid change management, and as such, several hard decisions had to be made and tough conversations had to be had. It was a time to be ok with a level of ambiguity and uncertainty. However, on reflection, I found that this critical time allowed me to thrive under pressure, rather than succumb to it, ensuring all parties were treated with respect and we experienced successful exits of work. It was a time to step up as there was a job to be done that required leadership and commitment to stay the course. It was a time about not fearing failure but drawing learnings and reflections.

Who inspires you? Why?

Jacinta Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Not only is she one of the most inspirational female leaders of our generation, but her clarity and engagement skills are in a league of their own. I’m in awe of her ability to make decisions as a first mover. Her communication is clear, consistent, and somehow simultaneously sobering and smoothing. She appears fearless, inspires confidence, and leads with empathy and authenticity that is so relatable.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to be a better decision maker?

It’s crucial to understand your strengths and to play to them. We are all different, but by leveraging our strengths in the decision-making process, we can produce powerful outcomes. For instance, if you’re an Extrovert, talking through decisions with peers can bring unfounded clarity, however, if you’re an Introvert, allowing yourself time to mull over options and form decisions in solitude can make the world of difference.

What are you reading/watching at the moment?

“The End of Competitive Advantage” by Rita Gunther McGrath. It’s a powerful book which explores the need for leaders to move beyond the notion of sustainable competitive advantage and use innovation to forge a new path to developing new business models and value propositions for future growth. I would strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a new playbook for strategy to exploit transient competitive advantage.

What is the most effective strategy you use for keeping your Ape (your emotional reactive state) in check?

My Ape State is ‘Questioning’, and my Tribe is that of a ‘Groupie’. In line with this, I draw my energy and strength from social connection. Whether this is spending time with family or interacting with a trusted network of peers, social interaction helps me perform at my best.

What type of decision maker are you?

After completing the S-DMF diagnostic tool, I am both a ‘Strategist’ and ‘activist’, which means I thrive working where big picture thinking is involved. I’m passionate about seeking out new opportunities and I am drawn to managing people and projects at a high level. I enjoy activating from concept to commercialisation by shifting mindsets. I draw energy by creating visibility of what is possible, in an uncertain future.


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