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Be Decisive

Decisions are what define a leader.

One CEO I interviewed said that you need leaders only for the big decisions that affected the organization as a whole. Every other kind of decision should be decided by people closest to the consequences of that decision. Ritz-Carlton puts this into practice by having its front-line staff do whatever is practical to fulfill their customer service commitment without additional charge to the customer and without soliciting permission from their supervisors. Customer convenience and satisfaction come first.

Front-line decision making also gives hourly workers in manufacturing plants the authority to stop the production line if they think something is wrong. Likewise, many companies grant customer service representatives a degree of autonomy within a certain dollar amount to make decisions that will resolve consumer complaints. As a result, customers may receive a replacement product or full reimbursement.

These examples place decision making in its rightful context. The criterion for making decisions within a business environment should be the effect the decision has on the company’s value equation as it relates to customers, employees, and shareholders. The value equation includes more than good financials, although good returns are essential. Value encompasses more of what many refer to as the ‘triple bottom line,” which defines how well a company delivers on its economic, social, and environmental commitments.

Considering a triple bottom line gives managers the freedom as well as the challenge of considering how their decisions will affect customers, employees, shareholders, and the community. By considering the value proposition, you anchor the decision in reality and you also do something else: you challenge employees to think outside of themselves to the consequences of their decisions. Too much consideration can lead to “analysis paralysis,” but enough consideration can be nurtured by the manager through ongoing communications. Here are some suggestions:

Seek input. Decisions may be and often are made from the gut. Design decisions on everything from automobiles to kitchenware are based upon instinct, but it is good to balance your gut with ideas gained from consumer research as well as from others on the team. Yet too much data can not only shake a hard drive, it can also make for fuzzy decision making. Where possible, ask for recommendations from the team; ask them what they think. Yu can decide by consensus or on your instinct, but at least you will have brought other thinking into the decision mix.

Ask questions. One technique for soliciting input is to ask questions; however, good questions are more than simple requests for more information. Questions may provoke awareness that more thinking is required. Ruminative thinking may delay a decision process temporarily, but the questions raised and the answers provoked may guide the manager and her team to make a better decision. You can also use questions to challenge conventional thought in ways that force people to look at their situation in a new and different light.

Decide. Absolutely! The purpose of decision making is to make a decision, that is, to come to a conclusion and proceed. Too often, we may postpone the process hoping a situation will go away. That’s wishful thinking. So, after you’ve studied, debated, and conversed, pull the trigger. Make the decision and stand up for it. Do not seek to make a decision an orphan. Make certain you communicate your reasons, especially if the topic is controversial. If you stand tall and show that you can take the heat, you may not gain points for the decision, but you will gain respect for your convictions.

Try as we might, it is inevitable that we will make wrong choices that lead to wrongheaded decisions. Decision making is rooted in accountability, even when the outcome is less than desirable. The hope is that the consequences of poor decisions can be reversed. And in many instances they can by applying some of the same communications lessons, such as asking questions, listening to evaluations, and seek to make amends as swiftly as possible. Sometimes simply accepting responsibility for a poor decision is enough; other times you need to make an effort to right the wrongs, particularly when they involve customers or employees.

The decisions a leader makes today will define her legacy for tomorrow. But if such a leader is taught to make good decisions in a way that facilitates two-way communication, she will have a proper framework for making good decisions. She will have the communication skills necessary to ask for input and assistance as well as the confidence to know that she can make the right decision. After all, as Winston Churchill put it, “The price of greatness is responsibility.”

This article is excerpted, with permission from the publisher, from 12 Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead. Copyright 2009. Published by AMACOM. John Baldoni is one of two experts on influence and power to participate in a live AMA panel discussion “Influence and Power: Improve Your Ability to Lead,” to be held November 16., 2010 .

About the Author(s)

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership consultant, speaker, and author. Baldoni is one of two experts on influence and power to participate in a live AMA panel discussion “Influence and Power: Improve Your Ability to Lead,” to be held November 16, 2010. Register now.