Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Perfect Decision

Decision-making, and the ability to make timely, effective decisions is said to be a key and necessary trait of a true leader.

I'm currently working with an organisation whose managers, on the whole, lean toward an 'avoidant' management style - that is, they put off making decisions. This is problematic because it can slow organisations down, mean that they become more bureaucratic with much consensus sought before someone has the confidence to make a decision. Rather than driving change and being in control, these managers become reactive and buffeted by constant change happening around them. It makes them more cautious and locks them in a cycle.

I find this a particularly interesting phenomenon because it is (as a CBT psychologist might say) the product of faulty thinking. Managers with an avoidant style tend to believe that there will be a perfect answer to their problem -they just need to figure out what that is. Sometimes this is driven by (and also drives) an immature organisational culture where people are either golden children (good) or sabateurs (bad). These cultures are often punitive and unforgiving, with manager having little confidence to stick their neck out or making a stand. They encourage others to tow the line. (Note: the opposite style is outwardly aggressive)

The second trait many avoidant-style manager have is that they are very high on the 'agreeability' continuum of personality. For them, being unpopular is a painful experience they fear. Whilst their personalities attract supporters and they can be quite influential, when it comes to the cold hard truth, this is their weakness. They can appear to be passive aggressive - agreeing to one thing and doing another.

So what do you do if you are a manager who gets hot under the collar when you are pressed for answers, or you are managing (and hopefully coaching) someone like this?

The first thing is to understand that sometimes a timely decision is more important than the right decision; often more data or yet another meeting does not mean a better decision. For a greater appreciation, read 'Blink' by Malcolm Gladwell.

If you work in an organisation, or with people like this, it is important to support them in their decision, encourage them to take more risks, and don't punish them when one goes wrong. Emphasise that it is important to keep learning and developing competence. As Bill Gates says 'success is a lousy teacher'. Sometimes our mistakes make us better, more human (an appealing trait in a leader!) and more competent on the whole. No-one wants to work in an organisation where you are always looking over your shoulder and don't have room to breath.

1 comment:

  1. I was reminded of an interesting example of the avoidant style today. From time to time over the last 6 mths, I have attended a meeting on an upcoming negotiation. I have been quite affronted when a senior person in each meeting has impressed on me, in front of others, that the meeting is confidential. At first I wondered what I'd done to make them think I didn't understand this. This is certainly one of the first rules of HR. I commented to another person about it who advised me that the senior managers were concerned that the Operations Manager was compromising them by leaking information. They were hoping that by impressing confidentiality on me (the newest person in the room) the Operations Manager would get the picture!