It was not an insignificant decision.
Under review was whether or not we were going to do something we had done every year for a long time. Right off the bat we were on the right track, as one of the secrets of success is realizing just because you have done something over and over — or done something a certain way — doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it. Even if the process itself may not have changed, everything else around it may have, thus altering the whole equation.
It is the wise leader who will look at almost everything afresh all the time. Of course, I’m not the wisest of leaders.
But I am wise enough (I hope) to listen to my team. And when Nancy started asking questions about the aforementioned activity, I first said something (at least to myself) like, “Out of the question – this must be done!” Eventually, though, I said I’d think about it. And over the next few weeks, I did. As a result, when she brought up her point of view again, the topic had fermented or stewed enough in my mind so that what had been a forgone conclusion now could go either way. And then, finally, just like a light switch, I was all in; change was in the wind, and I ready to operationalize our new direction.
I’d finally made the decision that had been weeks in the making. What I’d starting out thinking couldn’t be done had been firmly decided upon, with no lingering doubts. Interestingly, Nancy had helped flip it by doing exactly what a team member should do – voicing their opinion clearly and with conviction, but not pushing so hard as to get push back. And when I say “to get push back,” I’m taking about push back against an overaggressive effort, not against the point.
Speaking as someone in a leadership position, someone who makes decisions, I have studied both the art of good decision making and the methods of my decision making. Luckily I have made some good progress getting the two to line up. I like to think that I always elicit opinions from Kate and Nancy. I desperately want to know, need to know, how they feel about work-related issues, especially if they hold views I hadn’t considered or those contrary to mine. This is, in fact, one of the greatest services they can render the organization, because I am the first person to admit I don’t have all the good ideas. I’m lucky if I have a few, but we get a lot more good ideas if they participate in the process, and even the best of my ideas get a lot better when vetted by the team.
But the way my mind works, I have to make the decisions (at least the big ones). These decisions may line up with the expressed opinions of Nancy or Kate, and the point here is not that I want to steal credit from them. But someone has to take the overall responsibility and, in our company, that’s me. So when I’m hearing an opinion, I want it forcefully, but I don’t want it too forcefully. This is because I cannot be made to feel that I have no choice but to select the path someone other than myself is pushing for. I need to take the recommendation or suggestion and let it simmer and stew in my brain, mixing with all the other considerations that only I hold with my vantage point in the organization. If appropriate, I’ll come back to the issue (sometimes to an annoying degree) and want to continue debating, discussing and eliciting. Sometimes, after a sufficient amount of this, something in my mind clicks, and we’re off (to the races, that is). And that’s exactly what if feels like. Think, consider, ponder, discuss, debate, consider, think, “click,” operationalize, do, go, now!
And my role model for decision making is one of the best – George Washington, as described in Ron Chernow’s fantastic book on the first president, “Washington, a Life.” Here are some illustrative quotes:
“Hamilton concurred that the president ‘consulted much, pondered much; resolved slowly; resolved surely.’”
“Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence,” Jefferson wrote, “never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt but, when once decided, going through with his purpose whatever obstacles opposed.”
“Well aware of his own execution style, Washington once instructed a cabinet member ‘to deliberate maturely, but to execute promptly and vigorously.’”
I think the last quote sums up great decision making at its best. But don’t forget — we all (or least most of us) lead and follow, which means not only must we act like Washington, but also act like a member of Washington’s cabinet. And, when in that role, provide the well-considered, direct and clear opinions those we serve desperately require.