Written by Mark H. Ronald and Robert B. Shaw, Excerpt Pulled from Dale Carnegie Issue #1: Leader to Leader
Great leaders master the subtleties of decision making, particularly when the stakes are high.
Leadership often demands bold moves – an industry altering acquisition, investment in an innovative technology, a major reorganization. The line between success and failure in many situations is razor thin, and the downside of making a mistake is severe. The best leaders use all of the information available to them, along with rigorous analysis to improve their hit rate. They also take full advantage of the views of others, who are often in the best position to assess the consequences of a particular course of action.
The challenge is getting people to be direct and clear in expressing their concerns. For a variety of reasons, individuals often communicate in subtle or even misleading ways in regard to how they feel about a key decision. Leaders who ignore the nuances of communication in the decision-making process thus increase the likelihood of failure for themselves and their organizations.
Managing the Subtleties of Decision Making
We use the term “peripheral vision” to refer to the ability to surface and prioritize weak or ambiguous signals (those pieces of data or points of view that would in most cases fail to gain a leader’s attention). The goal is to increase the likelihood of making the best decision and increasing the level of buy-in for execution of the adopted course of action.
Know Your Team
An important step in improving the quality of decision making is to staff the leadership team with talented individuals who have demonstrated a willingness to take a contrary point of view when needed. A diversity of views, when managed effectively, will result in higher-quality decisions.
Create Openings for Contrarians
Most organizations need formal or informal mechanisms to encourage views that are different from the dominant culture or prevailing point of view on any given issue (including the leader’s own thinking). Leaders need to encourage these viewpoints, particularly in regard to the vetting of a full range of views on key decisions or areas of business. Each culture will dictate the approaches that are most effective.
Pay Attention to Behavioral Flags
Beyond an awareness of each individual in the decision-making process, leaders need to be aware of subtle cues that surface in a variety of settings. Watch for signals like these:
- Silence: In leadership teams, members who don’t support the trend of a decision often simply disengage from the group dialogue and remain silent rather than pose a contrary point of view.
- Non-answers: People can opt out by appearing to agree with the leader when, in fact, they do not. In these situations, individuals will not answer a direct question and instead will take the discussion in another direction.
- Omissions: It is often what is not said that is most critical – particularly on issues that the leader believes will be problematic.
- Specific language: People surface their true feelings in hundreds of subtle ways. Leaders need to pay particular attention to the specific use of words that are flags suggesting that more discussion or follow-up is needed.
“If you believe in what you are doing, then let nothing hold you up in your work. Much of the best work of the world has been done against seeming impossibilities. The thing is to get the work done.” -Dale Carnegie