Make A Decision! Or Risk Losing Respect

I love the meme: Be Decisive. The Road of Life is Paved With A lot of Flattened Squirrels That Couldn’t Make a Decision.  Ok so we aren’t talking about life or death decisions here but the consequences for failing to make decisions can be dire.

I have served as an Executive Coach for nearly twenty years and in that time I have heard many candid reviews about leaders from those they lead.  One of the #1 complaints?  Leaders who can’t make decisions.

I can assure you, if you are a leader that hems, haws and drags your feet making decisions you are causing great frustration for your team.  Leadership means providing direction and order for people to do their work effectively.  Part of that responsibility is making decisions that impact their priorities, resource allocation and clarity of expectations and goals.  When leaders take too much time making these critical decisions, they hold up progress from every layer under them in the organization.

Leaders must make decisions every day. The best leaders are transparent in their decision-making. They communicate how decisions will be made and make clear to those who report into them what levels of decision making authority and autonomy they have  within their areas.

Context matters in decision making.  Different situations call for different styles of decision making. Leaders have several to choose from — there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Here are four primary decision making styles to consider:

Authoritative: The leader decides and then communicates a decision. This style is best for scenarios with urgent tight time frames (a crisis) or when the leader is the only person with the insight or information necessary to make the call. Wise leaders avoid overuse of this style. They know using it means risking little or no buy-in to their decision.

Consultative: This style is about getting input from the team prior to a leader making a decision. A leader might begin from scratch with this style, saying “I am going to make a decision but I want your input before I do, what do you think about…?” or, “I have narrowed my decision to two options, but before I decide I want to run these two options by you to get your input.”  I encourage leaders to use this style generously. Why? It allows for influence and input from others (thereby increasing buy-in, commitment and reducing risk) but keeps clarity around who is making the decision (you, the leader) intact. A word of caution: If you aren’t open to influence, don’t pretend you are. It’s a huge mistake- I have stories about how it can backfire. Be prepared to disclose your rationale for not following recommendations or suggestions and don’t take too long to make the call once you get the input.

Consensus: With this style (FYI you lose your right to veto as the leader), essentially the team agrees to support the decision of the group. The plus — this often results in buy-in and commitment. The minus — trying to achieve consensus can be difficult and time-consuming. One stubborn person can hold up the process thereby creating the  “tyranny” of consensus. Trying to make all team decisions by consensus is a recipe for team frustration and struggle. Consensus shouldn’t be attempted with challenging decisions that require responsiveness and timely action.

Delegation: With this style, leaders give their decision-making authority away to others. This styles builds individual and team confidence/satisfaction (autonomy is a huge motivator for people) and it makes sense when someone clearly has more experience, skill and understanding required to make the call. Make sure to provide clear parameters when delegating.

I frequently observe and coach team meetings and often ask the question, “Who has decision-making authority over this?” Too often, no one knows. Meetings are a tremendous investment in resources; having clarity around decision-making authority, commitment and accountability are critical to bottom-line results. For critical or complex initiatives, or if the majority of your meetings are spent wasting time, getting expert help to achieve results may be in order.

Decision Making Styles for Leaders

Leaders must make decisions every day. The most effective leaders are transparent about their decision-making. They communicate to their people how decisions will be made and establish a clear definition of decision-making authority for their teams and direct reports to follow.

Different situations call for different styles of decision making. Leaders have several to choose from — there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Here are four primary styles to consider:

Authoritative: With this management decision-making style, the leader decides and then delivers a unilateral decision. There are certainly situations (a crisis, or when you are the only one with the insight or information necessary) that call for this “old school” style. Leaders need to be able to take charge and/or champion a cause. Yet wise leaders avoid overuse of this style. They know that using it means risking little or no buy-in to their decision.

Consultative: With this style, leaders consult with their people and gather input before making the decision. When used effectively, they communicate to those providing input where they are in their process. For example, “I want your input from the beginning on this,” or “I am down to two options, I am leaning toward x … and want to get your opinion.” As an organizational development consultant, I often encourage leaders to use this style more than they typically do. Why? It allows for influence and input from others (thereby increasing buy-in, commitment and reducing risk) but keeps clarity around who is making the decision (you, the leader) intact. A word of caution: If you aren’t open to influence, don’t pretend you are. It’s a huge mistake. Effective leaders will be prepared to discuss their rationale or reasons for not following recommendations or suggestions.

Consensus: With this style, essentially everyone agrees to support the decision of the group. You lose your right to veto as the leader. The plus — this often results in buy-in and commitment from team members. The minus — trying to achieve consensus is difficult and time-consuming. One person can hold up the process (the “tyranny” of consensus). Local author and consultant Robert Crosby wisely writes in his book, “The Authentic Leader:”

“The positive intent on consensus is to significantly involve people in decision-making. The negative intent and frequent consequence is to stifle action and give power to the most stubborn.” Consensus can be a great choice for those decisions that require a high level of team commitment to succeed. But trying to make all team decisions by consensus is a recipe for team frustration and struggle. Consensus shouldn’t be attempted with challenging decisions that require responsiveness and timely action.

Delegation: With this style, leaders give their decision-making authority away to others. This can be a good strategy to allow those closest to the task at hand to make the call, to grow the skills of others and/or when someone else clearly has more experience, skill and understanding than you do. In a nutshell, when delegating, make sure to offer clear parameters, then ask those taking over this responsibility to summarize their understanding. See next week’s column for tips about how to delegate wisely.

Here are a few important guidelines around decision making:

  • Communicate your decision-making style (depending on the situation) so that others in your group or on your team know how the decision will be made.
  • Honor the followers’ role in the decision-making style that you have chosen (don’t say, “I want your opinion,” if you have already made an authoritative decision).
  • When practical, avoid only bouncing between the extremes of making authoritative decisions and consensus; delegation and the consultative methods are more reliable styles that support organizational teamwork

As an external consultant, I am frequently asked to observe and coach team meetings and often ask the question, “Who has decision-making authority over this?” Too often, no one knows. Meetings are a tremendous investment in resources; having clarity around decision-making authority, commitment and accountability are critical to bottom-line results. For critical or complex initiatives, or if the majority of your meetings are spent wasting time, getting expert help to achieve results may be in order.

In today’s dynamic workplace, effective decision-making is critical to achieving organizational objectives.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and coaching abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com