When a team is looking for answers, they turn to their Leader. Leadership includes being the source for clarity and vision. As problems emerge, and they will, the Leader is the person in the hot seat to make decisions and offer guidance.
Answers are not always easy.
What do you think of when you look at his cartoon?
As problems arise, sometimes the answer looks complicated. It can be complex, but very right. A simpler choice might be preferred. Sadly, simple is not always right. The simple, expedient answer, may in fact lead you down a very bad path.
Leaders always deciding on simple answers can create more problems than they solve. One step in the wrong direction can be fatal to the project, the goal, and the mission.
The longer you are in a leadership position, the more inclined you will be to rely upon proven methods for decision making. While there are reliable ways to form decision making habits, here are three that emerge most of the time. I call them simply, the gut, the rut, and the nut. Here’s an explanation of each.
You hear it all the time. “I feel it in my gut”. Decisions made from gut instincts can, and will work, when coming from battle-tested warriors. Executives with miles of experience behind them have a better “gut sense” than those who are new to the game. One might consider it a sixth sense.
When circumstances begin to unfold, the gut sense tells us what is critical and what is not. It helps give priority when there is too little time for detailed analysis. It can even involve the notion of right from wrong.
Many years ago, when ATM banking was first emerging, I worked for Ben Love, a legendary banker in Texas. Ben was at the helm, running one of the most prolific and profitable banks of its time. I sat in a room one day when a team of analysts presented a new business product to Ben. It was automated teller machine banking (now known simply as ATM). Ben patiently heard all of the deal points about the huge boom that will be to attract consumer customers; the conveniences etc. The problem was the infrastructure to run such a network was at its infancy. Few transmission lines were available and the rules for posting transactions between banks were nonexistent.
At the end of the presentation, Ben had a few very wise questions. Then, almost in an instant, Ben said “No, we’re going to wait. Let the other guys take the arrows in their backs (for setting up the network). Then we’ll make our move.”
Sure enough, the other regional banks jumped on board, but not our bank. Losses were large. Cash was paid from the machines without being able to properly post the entry to the right account. It took several years to settle the process down into reliable accounting. Then we moved. Not only did we grab a huge lion share of the business, but we took a controlling interest in the network switch that processed all of the transaction. Yes, we passed on the opportunity to suffer losses and reputation in the early years (all bad things, right?). But we won big in later years.
Now that is a good gut decision from a well-seasoned executive.
This is possibly the worst form of decision making. “We’ve always done it this way”.
How many times have you thought up a great idea then presented it to management only to be shot down? Why? Because “that’s not the way we do things here”.
Decision making from the rut kills creativity and motivation. The lack of openness to new ideas stymies the individuality and inspiration in the work team. People start seeing the leader’s pattern for decision making. When that pattern no longer suits them, they seek employment elsewhere. You lose talented players from your team.
Besides, things change every day. What once was a good decision may now be overcome by new developments. Technology changes, economics change, buyer’s mindsets change. Too much changes in business to allow decision making from a rut mentality.
Executives that were once rock stars may outlive their wheel house. The decisions that used to be so easy now don’t fit.
I like this one the best. Decision making from the nut gets you down to basics. You dive for the core. You peel away all superfluous junk and make solid decisions based on values, facts, and principles.
I grew up in an area when pecan trees are plentiful. The pecan nut is a wonderful treat, full of ‘meat’. A properly grown pecan nut makes a great treat. Just like a beautiful pecan nut, decision making from the nut yields wise, plentiful outcome. It may be difficult to crack through the skin to get to the meat of the matter, but it is well worth the journey.
Decision making can be that way. A leader can be bombarded by differing opinions and contradicting facts about a situation. They must wade through all of that to get to a core. The center has to have a truth, a meaning, and a purpose.
Making choices based on finding the nut can allow for flexibility; responses to changing conditions while maintaining a sense of true north.
Which Do You Choose?
From the three mindsets I’ve described here, which do you find yourself using? Perhaps it is time to re-think the way you make choices for you and your team. Good decision making is a skill required of all leaders. It should not be left to chance.