Thursday, May 17, 2007

How do you make decisions?

Q. This question is for decision-makers at any level of an organization. I'm not asking about making choices, where the alternatives have already been determined. Nor am I talking about judgments, where rules can be applied to the facts of your situation. I'm asking about the process you use to determine a course of action when the future is unknown.

A. I once coached a CEO who was obsessed about how decisions should be made. I remembered this when just yesterday I saw a video of Bush explaining how he is "the decider."

I use Bush as a visible example and not for political advocacy.

Bush's concept of leading appears to be that one is out there ahead of others on some course, uncertain of what comes next and making decisions that will provide direction to those following. When the future is unknown, it's challenging enough to make decisions for oneself, let alone others. What an onerous responsibility!

Actually it's a recipe for disaster because a) there's no ownership on the part of those who will implement the results of the decision, they can only act as automatons and b) the alternatives perceived from a single perspective are disadvantageously narrow.

There is a self-perpetuating conventional wisdom that collective decision making ("by committee") takes too long. To the contrary, for those who practice it, collective decision-making can be rather fast.

The first thing to do it resist the urge to find a decision and trust the possibility that a decision will emerge when it is ready to be made! An exploratory conversation is divergent, admitting diverse viewpoints while a decision making conversation tends to be convergent, exclusive and dismissive. If each participant positively explores each alternative that arises, negating nothing, eventually an extraordinary thing can happen. There can be an instantaneous convergence of the conversation on a solution that satisfies all. The logic or rationale that would have earlier been impossible to explicate becomes self evident. All perspectives are considered, all stake-holders are satisfied and the decision is made!

This reliably works only when those who believe they lead by deciding admit it is not a good strategy and when those who lead by knowing admit that they don't.

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