Decision Making Traps

Josh Reich

Lead Pastor at Community Covenant Church, Author

  • Leadership

The book HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Making Smart Decisions has an article entitled “The Hidden Traps in Decision Making.” The authors outline the decision-making traps that snare leaders, businesses, churches, and individuals.

I’ll list them below and share how they slow leaders, churches, and people down:

1. The anchoring trap leads us to give disproportionate weight to the first information we receive.

This happens in all of life, not just in leadership. Often, it takes time to get past whatever we hear first. Whether that is a date or first impression, it keeps us from thinking straight or seeing new ways of doing something. This is okay, as sometimes our first impression or information is correct.

A leader needs to get a variety of perspectives. Ask someone with a different point of view for advice or insight.

2. The status-quo trap biases us toward maintaining the current situation—even when better alternatives exist.

Churches are notorious for “doing things as we’ve always done them.” It is comfortable, requires less work, less risk and often, in a church, keeps the leaders from having meetings with angry people. The problem with the status quo is that you need to move forward; you are, at best, treading water and, at worst, falling behind. A leader should always ask, “Are we doing things as best as we can? Is there anything we should add or take away?”

3. The sunk-cost trap inclines us to perpetuate the mistakes of the past.

This is when you’ve sunk money, time, manpower, and effort into something that isn’t working. Instead of bailing or stopping, you keep going. Churches have done this for years by keeping ministries and programs going because we’ve always done them, not because they are mission-critical or move the ball forward. Countless ministries keep going and get budget dollars because they had them last year. This is why yearly evaluation in a church is so critical.

4. The confirming-evidence trap leads us to seek information supporting an existing predilection and discount opposing information.

While this goes closely with #1 and #2, this is where a leader looks for things and reasons to confirm what they want to do. We decide what to do and then determine why that is best. When this happens, it is essential to ask, “Why would I do it another way?” Even if all the evidence points in a specific direction, it is easy to think there is no other evidence.

5. The framing trap occurs when we misstate a problem, undermining decision-making.

Framing is how we see a problem. How we ask a question will determine the answer. One of the things I often ask our leaders is, “Is that the problem we are solving?” I want us to be sure that we are solving the right problem. It will only matter what the answer is once the problem is apparent. Often, ministries get started for no good reason but only because someone else did it first. It is helpful to ask questions differently when this starts to creep up.

6. The overconfidence trap makes us overestimate the accuracy of our forecasts.

This happens yearly regarding budgets, ministry plans, and looking ahead to big days. While God moves in powerful ways and grows churches unexpectedly, it is important not to think we can do more than we can. For instance, when you make your budget, what if giving decreases by 10% instead of increasing by 3%? Depending on the size of your budget, that can be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

7. The prudence trap leads us to be overcautious when we estimate uncertain events.

This trap often keeps us from making decisions, falling into #2, and settling for the status quo. This is the safe side and causes us to pull back and have zero confidence. Like each team often has an overconfident person, each team usually has a prudent person. Both are necessary and important to the health of a team and church, but one can often be too loud and drive the decision, and it is usually the lead pastor.

8. The recallability trap prompts us to give undue weight to recent, dramatic events.

This is when we look to the past to decide how the future will go. Churches, again, are so good at this. If you’ve ever joined a church staff, you will notice that the past was either incredible and may have well been the book of Acts, or you followed the people who led the church through the 400 years of God’s silence between the old and new Testaments.

Remember: the past is never as great or bad as we remember.

Josh Reich, Lead Pastor at Community Covenant Church, Author

Josh is the dad to 5 fun kids, affectionately called The Reich 5, and married to Katie, who keeps them all running in the same direction. He's also the Lead Pastor at Community Covenant Church in Rehoboth, MA. Josh been a church planter, has an M.Div. in Missional/Organizational Leadership from Mission Seminary, wrote Breathing Room: Stressing Less, Living More, and trains pastors and church planters around the country on leadership, preaching, marriage and health. He blogs at

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