I get the opportunity to help people develop their leadership skills across a spectrum of industries. Their jobs are different and their responsibilities are diverse, but one thing is the same everywhere I go: Leaders want more guidance on how to be effective with decision making.
The decisions we make and the way we communicate in the workplace can greatly help, or harm, each of us as a leader. If we spend too much time soliciting opinions and trying to draw a consensus, others grow frustrated with our indecision.
Conversely, if we do not consult others when it comes to an important decision, we are sure to lose trust and the ownership of those that have to implement the decision.
The secret to making decisions effectively is to be able to achieve a balance between these extremes. Do not be too reliant on the opinions of others, but be respectful of any feedback that team members give.
Decision Making Formula
Here is a guideline: 50% of the time, ask for input. 50% of the time, get a sense of the situation. Make the decision, present it to the people involved, and ask for their support.
Where Do You Fall in This Equation?
- Are you a 50/50 decision maker, like the guideline we just talked about?
- Or are you more like a 30/70, putting your own opinions above those of your employees?
- Do you think that a 0/100 ratio is more effective because you don’t have to cloud the matter with other people’s ideas?
These questions definitely get us thinking about how we lead!
Effective leaders work on a 50/50 balance with their team members. When they solicit opinions, they know their final say will be valued during the decision-making process.
When they have to make a snap judgment on their own, people trust them and are confident that their leader’s choices will be sound, and that they will have all of their best interests in mind.
Here Is a Great Example
When tough decisions come along, your track record will speak for itself, and your team members will trust you. This aspect of leadership was verified by an employee at one of our client companies who confided in us about his team’s manager, Dean.
The employee told us that he knew if Dean had to make a decision on the team’s behalf, it would be a good one because he was constantly interacting with them and was well aware of their opinions and preferences. There was trust there, and so while the employees knew that Dean would ask for their input whenever possible, they also knew that when he didn’t ask them, they would still support his decisions.
Effective leaders are able to handle decisions in such a way that employees never feel devalued or left out, even when they are not directly involved in a decision’s outcome. This is a testament to the solid relationship between leader and employees.
When it comes to making decisions, a leader can be decisive without being autocratic.
Times when leaders have to step up and make decisions on their own include the following scenarios:
- When the decisions are made for the leader by upper management.
When “corporate” hands down a mandate, it simply has to be done. Whether it agrees with your leadership style or not, when the President of the company (who might be a reactive manager) says, “Get it done!”, you get it done.
It’s our job to carry out the decision and communicate it to our team (without saying “I don’t agree”), and we do so with integrity.
- When it’s a time-sensitive event or a sudden change of plans.
A customer calls and needs a shipment by Monday. A client company pulls out of its contract, creating a need to rearrange your production schedule. Whatever the issue is, you have to face it yourself, right away, and do what’s best for the company and for your employees.
The most important part is that you communicate the change to your team members in as timely a manner as possible, and work with them to make the changes happen.
- When there’s a safety issue.
If a faulty piece of equipment needs to be changed, or if a bin of material needs emptying, this isn’t the time for collaboration. Instead, assign people to the tasks and thank them for helping to keep the workplace safe.
- When there’s a financial constraint.
Layoffs, downsizing, the loss of a good customer. They happen to the best of companies. Unfortunately, you don’t often have the power to make the decisions you want. You can’t, for example, keep your entire team on board and jeopardize the organization’s future.
Sacrifices sometimes have to be made, and sometimes you have to be the one to strike the blow. This is not a time to get opinions, but a time to act decisively and do what you have to do.
- When a consensus cannot be reached.
You’ve asked for input and you’ve gotten plenty of it, but what’s good and what’s simply a ruse to further another person’s agenda? Or, when all twelve of your team members have different opinions, whose should you go with?
In cases like these, you must be the tie-breaker, the one who puts a foot down and makes the final decision. It will be the only way that your team can move forward. And I bet that, in the end, even those who would have preferred a different outcome will respect you for making the tough call.
When to Gather Input
Times when you need to gather input from your others include:
- When you need information from the experts on the subject.
A person who is close to the decision, one who will be most affected by it, will often have the most important things to say about it. For example, if you’re talking about changing a production process, why not ask the employee who works on it first-hand? Who better to tell you what the result of a change in the process might be?
Remember, though, that other managers are not experts in the sense that we’re talking about here. They may be great advisers when it comes to running a department.
But when you need projections on the real-world outcomes of your decisions, go right to those that the decisions will affect the most.
- When you want to ensure team members feel included in the information loop.
Sharing decisions with team members fills major needs on both sides of the equation: It gets you information that may be necessary to the decision-making process, and it keeps employees involved, invested and, most importantly, willing to trust you.
- When you want some new ideas.
Your team members are great resources – sometimes untapped, and just waiting for an outlet! Many times, even with the best leaders, people are too shy speak their mind, and are just waiting for you to show an interest in them.
Draw these people out of their shells and you’ll get a lot of ideas that you never would have thought of yourself.
- When you have leeway on how the decision will be implemented.
If you are considering a change that will not have to be rolled out immediately, such as work schedule alterations or bringing more people into the team, then you will have the time to discuss these matters with your employees.
Gathering input this way can help you make the decision, as well as possibly influence how and when the decision is carried out. Thus, this gives the employees a real sense of ownership in the process.
Strive for a 50 (ask for input) / 50 (make the decision) balance: half the time, solicit input from others and the other half, rely on your own judgment.
When you make decisions by yourself, team members will trust you to do what’s best for them because you’ve built a foundation of trust with them.
Communication is key when implementing workplace modifications, whether they are decisions you have made or mandates that have come down from the company’s higher-ups. Let your team members know that either way, you are committed to making the decision come out right and are there to help them implement the changes.
What’s Your Number When Decision Making?
Are you 20/80, 70/30, or 100/0? Let us know so we can compare notes and learn from each other!
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