I’ve made a career out of helping other people make decisions. Along the way, I’ve learned that there are three keys to strong decision-making.

My first job out of college was in management consulting where we gathered data to help companies make strategic decisions. I then went to law school, and as a corporate lawyer, I provided legal advice and counsel to help my corporate clients make business decisions that were legally sound. In the early 2000’s, I transitioned my career and became an executive coach, a profession in which I ask probing questions to help my clients make the best decisions they can.

Recently, I coached a CEO as she decided whether to lay off workers to preserve cash for future operations or keep those employees on the payroll to avoid putting them through economic hardship during this challenging time. I have frequently helped leaders make career path decisions. And I have helped countless clients make decisions about their businesses, job offers and promotions.

As I reviewed these decision-making moments and many others, I discovered that there are three keys to strong decision-making. These are the guiding principles I have always used and shared with clients:

  1. Know yourself and your core values.
  2. Take the time to gather data.
  3. Tune into and trust your gut.

Know yourself and your core values.

First, and foremost you have to know yourself and what makes you tick. You need to know your values. Values are what you believe is important to the way you live and work. I define values as: (i) who you are at the core; (ii) what you hold most dear; and (iii) what you suffer most from compromising.

Research shows that most of the discontent people experience is because one or more of their core values are not being honored in the way they are living. Translated, when you are unhappy in a job, it is probably because your values and the culture of the company clash. So, for example, if you value order and clarity, you likely won’t thrive in a family business in which the founder has created a culture of keeping options open and making just-in-time decisions.

Once you are clear about what your values are, you can make decisions based on them. If I value challenge, I can ask myself whether a particular job will challenge me. If I value financial security, should I really be opening up my own business during a recession? If I value independence, should I take a promotion that means I report to a controlling boss?

Take the time to gather data.

The second key principle of strong decision-making is gathering data. We’ve all heard that information is power and that is never more true than when it is time to make a big decision such as whether to sign an office lease, lay off employees or take a new job.

What information do you have? Take your time and observe what is actually happening. Do some research. Ask lots of questions of yourself and others. Be sure you are cognizant of what you are seeing and hearing. Gather data. Run the numbers. Don’t ignore the facts.

Tune into and trust your gut.

The final principle is perhaps the most important. Trust your gut. I always tell clients that part of a good decision is getting the data and then you need to trust what you know. There is a strong connection between our gut and our brains. In fact, neurogastroenterologists at Johns Hopkins say that we have a second brain in our gut called the enteric nervous system.

While our enteric nervous system can’t actually think, it does communicate information to our brains and that can have profound results on our decision-making capabilities. This second brain sends us signals – like those butterflies in your stomach when you are nervous or doing something that makes you uncomfortable in some way.

When we follow our gut – our intuition and inner knowing – we are much more likely to make a good decision. When we ignore that “feeling” we have in our gut, and simply do what we think makes rational sense, we are more likely to regret a decision.

For example, if you are evaluating whether to hire a new employee, don’t simply look at that person’s resume and listen to their answers to your interview questions. Notice how that person makes you feel. Does he inspire trust? Do you feel that he is the right person for the role? Hiring him may seem to make logical, rational sense but if your gut says “no”, don’t ignore it.

At this volatile time, leaders are being called upon to make tough decisions every day. If you know your values, get the facts and trust your gut, you will use these three keys to strong decision-making to inspire those you lead.