Friday, February 11, 2011

decision making 101: who should a leader listen to?

While leaders are not making decisions regularly (and if they are, they have moved into the management mode), the decisions they do make often have a significant effect on their institution. These decisions will come with a lot of input, data gathering, and often some serious hand wringing. These are not what we would call easy decisions. While there has been a lot of science that has gone into understanding how one makes decisions, I would like to comment on the process of who leaders listen to as they go about their decision making process.

Listening to people's input as leaders go about making decisions is an important part not only of the decision making process, but also in building the culture that one wants to have within their organization. Who leaders listen they listen...when they listen...and how that advice is used all affects how others perceive the leader and the organization. Here are several groups of people that I believe leaders should listen to - and the process in which they should listen to them:

The Executive Team - more often than not, this is a group of people who surround the leader because of their title and position. They are also often tied to a particular section (aka SILO) of the organization. This group of people bring data to the issue from their unique perspective and often have a stake in the game as decisions are being made. The decisions made by the leader will often affect them and their people very directly. While they have to be a part of the decision making process, I often wonder if they bring the best advice. And we all know what can happen if the leader actually asks them to VOTE on the decision...

The Masses - our culture tells us that democracy always works best, and yet decisions made by the masses are often made with little or no real data. What "feels" good at the moment often guide this group in decision making. Whether it is by vote...or by survey...or by informal input, the masses are mostly asking "what's in it for me?" They often only see what is on the outside of the decision to be made, and know little about the real issues. They are not fully informed (nor should we expect them to be) and yet are quickly willing to lend thier opinions.

Those Who Have Gone Before Us - while it is good and wise to to have counsel from mentors and coaches and those who have been in the decision making role in the past, it is difficult for this group of people to be completely objective in their thoughts and opinions. The picture of what worked in the past might not necessarily work today or into the future. This group of people may want their own personal legacy to live on, and relying on them for help in the decision making process can skew a leader's understanding of what the organization REALLY needs to move forward.

The Best People in the Organization - for me, this is the group I would put the most stock into when listening for advice in decision making. They may or may not have a title...they may or may not be sitting on the executive team...they may or may not have been with the organization for a long time...BUT they should be the people whom the leader trusts the most. They bring the most value to the organization...they are the ones whom the leader believes can best move the organization forward...they are the ones coming up with ways to make the organization better...they are the ones who show up early and stay late...they are the ones with whom others associate the organization...they are the ones who see their job as their calling and vocation...they are the ones who exemplify what the organization is all about. Listening to them makes the most sense, because they will give advice that is best for the organization (not themselves)...they will give advice that is forward looking (not the easy way out)...they will give advice that comes from the heart (becasue that's the only way they know how to think about the organization)...and they will give advice that challenges the "normal" way of thinking (because they are always challenging themselves and their personal way of thinking).

Leaders should be listening to others in their decision making process, and who they listen to says a lot about them as a leader - and a lot about the culture of the organization. Ultimately, the leader HAS to make the decision, and it becomes THEIR responsibility to do so. There is no place for blame afterwards, and the leader lives with the consequences of that decision. However, good listening (or what others refer to as deep listening) can assist the leader in the decision making process - and can serve them and their organization well in the long run.

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