One of the best decisions a leader can make is to decide to let others make decisions and to create a decision-maker culture. That is what Dennis Bakke recommends in his book, The Decision Maker: Unlock the Potential of Everyone in Your Organization, One Decision at a Time.
As a leader, you are ultimately accountable for how decisions turn out. That can cause many people to hold tightly to their decision-making authority. Instead Bakke reminds us that sharing decision-making responsibility actually can lead to better decisions, more employee engagement, develops employees expertise and supports professional development. To help leaders identify the best person, or group, to make different decisions Bakke describes a formal “decision-maker process.” Use the following four elements to guide your selection:
- Proximity – how close to the situation is the person and can they also see the big picture?
- Perspective – can the person bring a different point of view or utilize multiple points of view?
- Experience – does the person have enough experience in the situation to be able to actually make a decision?
- Wisdom – will you and others trust their decision?
From my experience, when a leader asks me to make a decision it can feel overwhelming and I may feel like I need to prove my worth by making the decision all on my own! If your people react in the same way sharing decision-making can actually backfire. To help address this issue Bakke encourages leaders to coach their people on how to seek out and take advice when making a decision. He also defines good advice as coming from people who have:
- Experience – they know or understand the situation.
- Different positions in the organization – they can provide multiple and diverse perspectives.
- Responsibility – they have an actual connection to the situation and the decision or outcome.
- Ownership – they will back up their advice and the ultimate decision.
It can be scary to relinquish decision-making responsibility but it is a risk worth taking!
I’ve written before about the difficulty in figuring out who’s not at the table when it comes to effective decision making. This continues to be a challenge in my professional life. It’s so hard to hear the voices that aren’t there.
During my career I’ve worked with a couple of leaders who systematically reduced the number of people in their management circles. On one hand, this certainly does lead to quicker and more efficient decision-making. But on the other hand, I wonder if the decisions are actually better.
I understand the need to streamline bureaucracy, and there are certainly many ways to seek alternative viewpoints. The most effective leaders are able to make timely and efficient decisions while still reaching out to stakeholders. Taking time to hear from a broad range of people can generate new considerations or raise issues that a smaller team might not think of.
I worked with a leader at the U of M who was great at this. She demonstrated a genuine open-door policy and listened respectfully even when she disagreed with the speaker. She cultivated a wide network that generated diverse viewpoints. I’ve been amazed at how many different projects I’ve been involved with where someone would say, let’s ask Kris about this. Her openness made it easier for her to find those diverse voices and be connected to different viewpoints.
What have you seen effective leaders do to seek alternative viewpoints?
Dee Anne Bonebright
One of this month’s competencies is: Prepares stakeholders for and involves them in decisions that affect them.
This statement seems like a bit of a no-brainer, but is high on the list of frustrations among staff who suddenly find themselves carrying out changes they had no input into, even thought it directly affects them and their work.
I recently heard a story from an friend who works as a hospital nurse. The batteries used in their bedside machines lasted a long time and came in packs of four, the amount that the machines hold. With no warning, they were switched to a different brand, with the batteries now in packs of three. Not only do the new ones not last as long, there are now partially used packages of batteries to be stored and organized. Nobody asked the staff nurses, the people who would be most affected by this change – it just happened.
Even though this may sound like a pretty minor issue, it certainly wasn’t to the nurses directly impacted by it. And when these types of “minor” situations become the norm in an organization, morale can take a downward plunge.
Inviting staff that will be directly impacted by a change into the planning process, well before it’s reached the decision making stage, shows them that you value them, their contributions, and what they bring to the organization. It’s a simple, but often overlooked, morale booster.
As we wrap up the year, we’ll be visiting the final leadership competency on the Minnesota state list – demonstrates effective decision-making.
To review all the competencies, you can click on the “leadership competencies” tab above our site banner. In some ways, effective decision-making is a good summary of the list. It involves understanding self and others, integrity, relationship-building, effective management, and innovation. Some of the Minnesota State behaviors include:
- Demonstrating critical thinking and asking appropriate questions
- Seeking alternative viewpoints
- Using appropriate decision-making methods
- Involving stakeholders in decisions and communicating decisions to them
As you look at the year ahead, what key leadership decisions will you need to make? Stay tuned for ideas and resources to help you make them effectively!
Dee Anne Bonebright
I rode my first teeter-totter last week on my mountain bike. To me it felt like a well thought out and reasonable action to take. I have been practicing my “skinny” skills and my bike handling has improved over the past year. I have watched my brother ride teeter-totters and he has shared with me information on technique so I felt well prepared. Was I afraid? Yes! Was it scary? Yes! Was it a risk? Yes! (Did I make it? Yes!)
We all assess and take different types of risk. Leaders are asked to take “appropriate” risks and then make decisions. Your success depends on your ability to accurately understand, assess, judge and take risks.
Dylan Evans, a researcher on risk and author of Risk Intelligence, believes that we can develop our skills in this area and actually build our “risk quotient.” The starting point for increasing our risk intelligence is the ability to accurately understand and accept what we do know and what we don’t know. Research has shown that most of us are bad at estimating probabilities based on what is actually know or not known. We end up either overconfident or excessively uncertain, both of which lead to poor risk assessment and decisions.
Leaders can use the following checklist that Evans developed to better understand and improve their risk intelligence.
- Do you consciously review what you know before making a decision?
- How does what you know actually relate to the decision?
- How likely is each piece of information to be true and how does that likelihood influence your decision?
- What else do you know that might actually relate to the decision?
Purposely and consciously asking these questions and using the results will increase your ability to assess risks and then make better decisions about an uncertain future.
Good luck on your next teeter-tooter of leadership!
Posted in change and transition, decision making, Developing Capacity, Leadership, leadership development, self awareness
Tagged asking questions, assessments, blind spots, Change, Leadership, leadership development, questions, risk taking, self-awareness
Seeking out diverse perspectives can give leaders an important edge in today’s world. Whether embarking on a enterprise-wide initiative or making decisions that will impact a unit, institution, or community, diverse perspectives can give us the information we need to be more effective. They can keep us honest, keep us from moving into groupthink, and provide a resource to sharpen our thinking and lead to innovative solutions. As leaders, we can truly benefit from a diversity of perspectives!
So how can we as leaders seek out diverse perspectives? Here are a few ideas from the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. They advise leaders to:
- Encourage contributions from everyone and give voice to individuals and constituencies not in the room. Those in the room may need to represent stakeholders who are not present.
- Acknowledge the impact of power and privilege on who speaks and who listens in groups. Be mindful of the status that is accorded to a person because of her or his position, race, ethnicity, economic class background, sexual orientation, gender, religion, ability/disability, education, expertise, and/or profession.
- Practice respect for others. Listen deeply. Acknowledge and accept difference of opinions. Discern when to voice differences and when to hold them lightly.
- Appreciate the constructive value of conflict. While conflict can feel hard or uncomfortable, helping a group move through conflict can result in better outcomes for everyone. Learn to tolerate and work through it, rather than smooth it over or ignore it.
Think of a group you lead that has some diversity. Consider who speaks in the group. Who has the most “air-time?” Is everyone heard? In your leadership role, how can you enable every participant to contribute fully?
Best of 2015, first published on March 4, 2015
As the title suggests this dilemma cannot be vanquished but only revisited and managed – not solved!
Ever since we could argue it seems as if people have been debating the merits of working for the common good or working for individual success and survival. Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher, wrote in 1651 that we needed government to enforce behaviors that support the common good. The economist Adam Smith argued in 1776 that we must establish a free economic market to ensure that the common good wins. Otherwise the power of individual success will win.
I first got involved in this debate as a behavioral biology student in 1976 when Richard Dawkins published one of my favorite books, The Selfish Gene. At the time it was described as “the most thrilling stretches of explanatory writing ever penned. It’s breathtaking.” Dawkins continued the scientific debate that is occurring today: is it better to act for the common good or is it better to act for the good of the individual?
While this debate has fueled many wonderful conversations and arguments on college campuses, during long car trips, or at the local bar it highlights a dilemma that all leaders face. Do I focus on the success of my team and our services or do I focus on the success of the larger organization, even if it hurts my team or my success?
What if there isn’t a “right” answer and instead it is actually a polarity that you can leverage? In her 2014 post, Leveraging polarities, Anita introduced the concept of polarity thinking as a tool for leaders to use when facing these types of ongoing dilemmas. A recent article from the Polarity Partnership Group highlights the need to recognize the benefits of supporting the common good AND supporting your team while also acknowledging and acting on the downside of the common good AND the downside of team-focused success.
Over the next month we will be sharing tips and tools you can use to reap the benefits of focusing on the common good in your organization. Yet, in today’s complex environment we must also follow F. Scott Fitzgerald’s advice and “hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” It isn’t a debate between the common good and the good of your team, it is a polarity of the common good and the good of your team.