Decision Making: Don’t Go Solo

By Cal Zant
June 4, 2019

Throw it up and shoot holes in it. If it lands and there’s anything left, there might be something to it. – Bob Smithson

One thing that makes us different from the typical company is that we are highly collaborative and make many decisions as a team. While this doesn’t imply decisions should be a democratic vote, bouncing ideas off other leaders or members of your team will produce better results. While one of us might come up with a good idea, it could be even better if we invite others to have input on it. After all, Proverbs 15:22 tells us: “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

Never isolate yourself when making big decisions. When a decision will impact people beyond your team, it’s wise to seek the counsel of other leaders. Don’t mistake changes to a process or product as small decisions, because they’re repeated hundreds of times and the long-term impact can be huge. And we should especially seek counsel when making people decisions. Because we develop deep relationships with our people, we need others to help us see a situation clearly and make the best decision for everyone involved.

Understand we are not promoting a formal approval process for decisions. Our goal isn’t a bureaucracy, but to simply find trustworthy people who will give us a different perspective, challenge us, and help us uncover where our biases are. Great leaders listen to and value trustworthy, diverse, opposing viewpoints.

In his typical, cut-and-dried style, Dave Ramsey explains “I have seen some really ugly babies, but never met a mom who thought they were ugly. You are emotionally blinded by your pride in your creation.” A third party can offer an objective perspective that may be impossible for someone closer to the decision to have.

Secure leaders are humble enough to admit they don’t have all the answers, and they value the opinions of others. They aren’t out to prove themselves. Some insecure leaders feel a burden to solve problems on their own, because they believe asking for help shows weakness, but in fact, the opposite is true. Not allowing others to weigh-in on a decision can also be a symptom of distrust. Asking for help shows courage, humility, trust, and respect.

The Harvard Business Review provides some wise observations and suggestions on this topic: “We’ve found that those who want to buck the pressures for conformity in a large organization, tend to have healthy egos. It’s important to recognize that and to not let that sense of being the rebel lead you to try to go it alone. Temper that ego by working with others to advance your ideas for change. You may even need to be prepared to relinquish ownership of your idea so that a broader group can implement the change. Making the idea community property will improve it as more people will be bringing fresh perspectives to it.

The concept of making an idea community property resonates in our highly collaborative environment. If we have a big vision for a change, we make it community property early! Don’t hide away until you can craft a fully fleshed out proposal. The longer we spend working on an idea in isolation the more defensive and resistant we become to input from others when we eventually unveil our grand vision. Fresh perspectives will only help us, and after all – it’s not about us.

Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right. – Ezra Taft Benson

Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions. – Proverbs 18:2

Over time, leaders here must become verbal processors, where they express their ideas out loud and invite others to collaborate on them. This is more natural for some personalities, but it’s something we must all adopt.

Don’t misinterpret this as an argument for consensus.

When teams wait for consensus before taking action, they usually end up with decisions that are made too late and are mildly disagreeable to everyone. This is a recipe for mediocrity and frustration. Rick occasionally reminds us “This is not a democracy!” He obviously isn’t promoting tyranny, but the best leaders don’t make every decision by popular vote either. In some scenarios, a leader may need to take a bold stance that isn’t popular in order to move the organization forward.

We need to take time proportionate to the size of the decision. Big decisions should take big time, and little decisions should be done instantly. The more money involved, the more you should slow down. The more time involved as a result of the decision, the more you should slow down. The more people involved, the more you should slow down. But for goodness sake, when buying a pack of gum, just do it, and do it quickly – you are holding up the line!

Jim Collins explains that when leaders get hit with something that calls for a reaction – maybe an angry customer called – the natural instinct is to immediately react and do something. But what great leaders do is say “Wait a minute, before we do anything let’s zoom out for a moment.” They try to get above the battlefield, and ask “Before we act, how much time do we have before our risk profile is going to change? Are we talking minutes, hours, days, weeks, months?” Then they can make a decision in the context of that. After they establish a timeframe, they know what they have to work with and can then zoom back into the details.

Some decisions feel overwhelming. This may be because it is simply too big based on the facts we have, and we should find a way to break it into smaller decisions. We may need time to gather data, identify options, or simply uncover what the truth is in a situation. But keep this in mind: “To postpone a decision is really to decide for the status quo. In most decisions the key element is not so much knowing what to do but in living with the results.” Sometimes the cost of inaction is higher than the cost of making a mistake.

But ultimately, indecision can lead to stress. The paradox is that some of the most stressed people on the planet are people who are frozen by indecision. There is tremendous energy and peace that decision making brings. Even our teams are energized by a leader who can make the call well.

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