Decisive Leadership

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March 28, 2016

Recently I worked with a talented new CEO from a large investment firm.  He was focused on business and driven to make an impact in his new role.  However, one area he struggled with was in making decisions.  Whether unilaterally or with his team, he seemed to linger ad nauseam over the decision, endlessly weighing pros and cons.  Each week at the executive team meeting, the same topics would be raised and then postponed, for reasons that were unclear.  Action items were discussed only in broad, general terms, with no specifics or assignment of accountability.  You can imagine the frustration his team felt every week as they prepared to convene for yet another fruitless session.  The other executives began to lose motivation, focus and hope for the future.

As the leader and I probed deeper into his indecision dilemma, it became clear that what stood between inaction and success was fear.  He was afraid of making a bad decision, which led to fear of negative repercussions, and fear of failure.  Rather than take the wrong action, he would become stuck and take no action. Even bigger than the waste-of-time weekly meetings, he worried his new colleagues were thinking they’d hired an ineffective leader.

Through coaching, first we helped him evaluate his own process, and then reviewed effective decision-making models. Anticipating an upcoming large purchase decision, he prepared to try out his new skills at the next team meeting - which turned out to be a big success. His team was enthusiastic, engaged and energized throughout the meeting. See below my client’s 5 take-away tips for making effective decisions.

1.  Don’t make decisions alone or in an information vacuum. Involve and engage other people, especially those that have specific process knowledge. Getting others’ perspective helps everyone see things more clearly.

2.  Anticipate that some decisions won’t work out.  Some of our best lessons are learned from our mistakes.  Even suboptimal decisions can reveal opportunities for improvement.

3.  Rather than forcing arbitrary deadlines, use data to set a realistic timeframe by which to make the decision.  Try using a calendar to map out the dates when each supporting element will be available; you may even find the deadline will emerge organically.

4.  Own it.  Whatever decision the team – or leader – makes, ask everyone to support the decision going forward.  While disagreement can be healthy and even constructive, it’s good to present a unified front. Learn and coach your team to use the principals of consensus, or agreeing to ‘live with’ and publicly support the decision, even if privately, it was not everyone’s #1 choice.

5.  Finally, add a feedback loop to the process. After implementation, revisit and discuss the outcome with your team. Ask, What turned out well? What did we miss? Which of our predictions could have been improved? And, what have we learned for next time?

So, how decisive a leader are you? To learn more about decision making, leadership and coaching check out our website.  Goldin Leadership Group offers leadership coaching and development opportunities to help you maximize your leadership potential.