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Leading Effectively Podcast

Myths of Effective Decision Making

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The ego can be a powerful ally in building a confident executive. It can also be a millstone around the neck of someone trying to make good decisions on behalf of an organization.

How can this paradox exist? Simple.

The traits that make a leader confident are the same ones that might cause him to abandon a team effort to decision making. For example, group input might be welcome when the team and executive share a point of view. But that confidence and love of making decisions can cause that same executive to go solo when it suits him.

Being fickle doesn't often result in effective decisions. In fact, it leads to a false sense of self-confidence that over time erodes the confidence others have in your ability to lead.

Pete Hammett of the Center for Creative Leadership says a love of making decisions can be dangerous to an executive and stifling to a company. Hammett, who is the author of "Unbalanced Leadership," cautions executives against believing the myth that just because they have made a decision at the highest level that it is the best decision to a problem or situation.

As Hammett puts it, most problems or crises aren't solved, they're just temporarily settled. That's even more true if executives have surrounded themselves with like-minded people who affirm the same opinion time and again. They might be talented people with a lot to contribute to an organization. But if they all think alike and have the same experiences, then odds are probably good that they'll all come to the same conclusion in how to approach a project.

That leads to an easy, consensus decision, Hammett says. It rarely will lead to the best one.

Instead, what often happens is that the executive is more focused on making a decision and then moving on rather than gauging how others outside the upper circle view the decision. The leader is so sure that the call is correct, any group discussion shuts down quickly.

Then follows an undue pressure to act on that decision. Executives in this habit interpret any assessment of their decision as sluggishness. To combat that perceived sluggishness, they then begin to micromanage and mandate.

Hammett notes that executives make dozens of decisions, and rightly so. His research offers a way executives can strike a balance between getting input and making thoughtful decisions. The goal isn't to shun the confidence and experience that led to their success in an organization, Hammett says. The goal is to have a decision-making process in place that uses all of an organization's assets and, therefore, makes an executive a true leader for every member of the team - not just those who are in the inner circle.

Here are six steps for improving your decision making:

No. 1: Try it again. Just because something didn't work before doesn't mean it shouldn't be considered. Times change. Adapt with them.

No. 2: Slow down and ask some questions. Effective decision making isn't measured against a stopwatch. A quick decision isn't always best, and if there isn't an imperative reason to push one, don't. If there seems to be urgency in making a decision, what's influencing that? Get in the habit of asking why a decision must be made immediately. If it can wait for research and input, ask what other points of view need to be sought.

No. 3: Operate at the edge of chaos. Many executives see iron control as effective leadership. That's not leadership, that's power. It's a myth that the two are interchangeable. Instead, develop a culture in the organization that welcomes alternative solutions. Make it routine in practice, if not in result, that multiple scenarios are expected at meetings. Let people feel free to toss in ideas for consideration. Let people know you're truly confident enough to admit that the best decision may not be one that originated with you.

No. 4: Ask and listen. When ideas start coming, executives must ask questions. True leaders are confident enough in their own ability and standing to seek advice from people outside their inner circle. Talk to people with different experience and different expertise.

No. 5: Get some help. Just as a true leader is confident enough to ask for input, effective leaders are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. One way to assess leadership ability and traits is to find a coach, colleague or friend who can relate to a workplace situation. Often, a clearer perspective can be found from a different vantage point.

No. 6: Let the ego go. Self-confidence and ego are common factors in leaders, but an effective leader must learn when to release the need to be in control. Delegate. Build a team that is confident and capable, too. Good leaders are also good teachers who aren't afraid to see others around them succeed.

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