We all know that leadership is something to be demonstrated through the right behaviours and not a position you are appointed to. Of course this is absolutely true and we have in every role of responsibility for others, the need for leadership. This call to responsibility cannot be neglected, rejected or avoided; it is your job.
There are many facets to this key role that determines the success or failure of not just teams but of organisations, cultures and countries. Each of which needs to be drawn upon and brought to the forefront of activity at the right moment.
There are three elements of leadership though I’d like to focus on in this short series. In my opinion these are the elements that have a significant impact on whether someone is valued as a true leader or purely is another link in the chain of command and organisation. The real challenge is that very often these are the three which are least prevalent in a leadership population.
If we don’t take people along with us, then unfortunately we are merely a beacon of light, so dull that it leaves those we lead in uncertainty and darkness with a lack of clarity about who they are working for and how they can really add value.
My focus this time will be on the ability to make wise decisions and equip others to make great decisions as well.
The ability to make wise decisions as a leadership responsibility
As I work with some of the top executives around the world I’m amazed at the number of them who are reluctant to make a decision. It may be fear or failure, or rejection from those more senior or just not wanting to be held accountable. Whichever is the root cause is, it’s having a huge impact on the pace, direction and quality of delivery of the needed results.
Whatever their reasons for not wanting to make the decision I guess challenge is not knowing whether it is the right decision for the circumstances they find themselves in.
We make decisions every day of our lives and every moment of every day. We decide what to wear, what to eat, when to speak, when to ask questions, when to work longer and when to go home.
We make these decisions on the basis of circumstances in criteria. I’ve been very fortunate to be coached by some great people and one of them, named Bob Wright – who has the great ability to figuratively slap me into reality in a manner which still shows his immense care, taught me this: We all have demands upon, or expectations of, us; in our responsibilities as family members, as business leaders, as a friend. There are always constraints; things that aren’t ideal, we don’t have all the money in the world and we don’t have all the time in the world. But based upon those demands and constraints we still have choice.
There is a certain freedom that comes with responding to demands and constraints and making great choices and ultimately wise decisions. Will we always make the very best decision? Probably not. But if we are making at least good quality decisions consistently based upon some key considerations and principles, we will end up at the destination we aspire to.
What constitutes a wise decision?
In my early career I was taught that wisdom is the correct or appropriate use of our knowledge. Wisdom is knowledge correctly applied. Therefore a wise decision requires us to gain the appropriate knowledge, relevant to our purpose or outcome and then make a decision about action.
I regularly hear senior leaders complaining of the information overload. Data should be provided to meet a purpose not to demonstrate clever functionality or justify personal value.
So what constitutes a wise decision? The ability to know what information adds value to your decision and what does not. To consider what you are trying to achieve and your purpose and then use that information to determine the action with the greatest value. Or in fact on occasion that not acting would, in fact, add value.
New solutions for new challenges
We all work in incredibly busy and demanding jobs. This requires us to continually stretch ourselves through back-to-back meetings and highly driven target activity. This has a significant impact liability to make great decisions. When we are incredibly busy and decisions need to be made at fast pace we tend to rely on our previous experience and identify what we, or others, have done in the past in a situation that is similar to the one we now face.
The reality is historically proven solutions may not be relevant for future challenges. Our world is changing and in fact we are leading a generation who will need to solve problems and make decisions in a business world that has a little resemblance to the world that was when we made that decision originally. This is why our key role is to ask the right questions, which can be applied to new world scenarios. The questions remain predominantly consistent whereas the answers can change dramatically.
As an indication of the rate of change: in 2003 Deloitte consulting predicted that by 2006 30% of global revenues would come from products or services that did not exist then. So, over a three-year period 30% of revenues would come from new things, or possibly provided in the new way.
I believe if anything this rate of change has increased in the last decade. This is why we have to be careful not to impose our historical decisions and solutions on those readily today in the future. Remember our questions are still valid but the answers could be totally different. Teach how to find the answer not what the answer is.
Why do we feel the need to make all the decisions?
I have used this quote in articles before. Ralph Nader, consumer champion in the US, said that the first premise of leadership to create more leaders rather than more followers. We need people who can think for themselves and not being reliant on every time they have a question needing to refer to us as the boss.
This is a little bit like poor delegation. I don’t think we do it on purpose but we tend, when asked, to give the answer rather than help our team member consider the right questions and discover the answer themselves. Yes of course it takes more time initially, but the return on that investment has a multiplied value for the future of our success as a leader and our organisation.
The process of making decisions
There is a process of principles that enable us to make exceptionally good decisions. The greatest minds I have ever come across in this field of expertise are Charles Kepner (Of NASA Apollo13 fame) and Mat-thys Fourie superb root cause analyst and critical thinking skills guru.
In fact, I was so impressed we now work hand in hand as closely aligned companies. The process is driven through exceptional structured questioning techniques, combined with the skills to draw out the right information through them. The great thing is that these skills can be taught and this reassurance helps build those profound skills in leaders.
One of our global telecomms clients develops these skills in all of the “Talent” population to prepare them for more strategic roles in the future. These skills of wise decision making gives them the confidence to truly lead.
Step 1: define the purpose for the decision – agree on what exactly you are focusing on. This should include both a noun and an adjective.
Step 2: clarify the decision/solution requirements – identify who the stakeholders are (anyone who influences the solution or is influenced by it). Ask some critical questions from the perspective of each stakeholder. What specific results do we want to achieve? What are some of the current symptoms, we are experiencing that we would like to remove? What risks must our solution avoid? What are the contextual considerations to be aware of? We can then summarise these answers into 8-10 key requirements
Step 3: prioritise the requirements. It’s interesting to me that we often make a list of requirements to make a decision but then assume they are all of equal importance. This is never the case and not addressing it at this point causes real challenges in alignment of key stakeholders later.
Step 4: create options for action – use methods to generate ideas. These solutions options are often triggered through considering the perspectives of key stakeholders at stage 2.
Step 5: compare your options against each element of the key requirements. Use weighting to compare and even create scoring methods as to how well they meet them
Step 6: make your decision, but often by combining elements of a solution. One option may be strong in one area but have a weaker rating against another of your requirements. What can you learn from another option, which scored higher in that area, that could help you make it an even stronger solution.
Step 7: share a summary of your considerations and your chosen action to win the support of your stakeholders.
How many times do we make a decision, start a project or take an action that is then detailed or delayed by stakeholders who feel they have not been included? By following these steps and early proper, focused engagement this is avoided.
How do we build people through decision making?
When I work with some of the most talented professionals and leaders I find that very often they have a similar quality. The vast majority of them are quick thinkers. They are presented with a situation, option or problem and they go through a basic version of what I described in the previous section, in their heads. They then spout the answer to their team and their team jumps to action … (Mostly).
This is all very well and may in fact be the right solution, but there are three potential challenges in this. One of which I referred to in a previous article:
1. Leaders don’t necessarily have all the best ideas. Several research initiatives have concluded that it could be as low as 6% of ideas that really help the business deliver its strategy come from the executive team. There are many answers to be discovered through your people
2. You are making your team reliant on you. The path of easiest action in future will just be to come and ask you. Especially if they can just blame you if it didn’t work. This has huge implications on you spending time on activities you don’t need to and distracting you from leadership.
3. Without involvement there is no commitment …or growth. By making your thinking visible and engaging to others you are allowing them to understand why we should take an action and also building a stronger conviction of rationale in their minds should they run into challenges. As they learn the questions to ask and the perspectives to seek they will build their own skills of decision making, in a way that you can trust will achieve the right outcomes.
Be that proud parent who looks on as they see their children make great decisions about their futures. Being aware of the demands and the constraints but making exceptional choices. Decisions that will change the future for good.
Remember that making great decisions is fundamental to portraying real wisdom but helping others to make equally valuable choices true leadership.
I hope that you have found value in these three often forgotten qualities of leadership. Bring energy to your team and your business every day. Discover and focus on a common purpose and make great decisions. I guess the ultimate question must be posed to all of us who have leadership responsibility, or aspire to it: What are you willing to do? What effort are you willing to make? What time are you willing to spend?
To be the leader that your business needs, it’s ultimately up to you. We all have those demands and constraints …but we still have a choice. Those who find their way into the memories, appreciation and hearts of their people are those that rise to the challenge. It’s not about luck, it’s about you and what you are willing to do and who you are willing to be.