A major part of strategic leadership is decision-making. Most leaders think it is a simple act of saying “yes” or “no.” But the best leaders understand it as a complex process.
In the article “Making Judgment Calls: The Ultimate Act of Leadership” by Noel M. Tichy and Warren Bennis in the October 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review, the authors point out that there are three stages to effective decision-making.
Stage # 1 is the “Preparation Phase” where leaders sense what is happening in the internal and external environments and identify the problems. Next they frame the issue that will demand a judgment call. Finally, in stage #1, they align their team members so that everyone can understand why the call is important.
Stage #2 is the “Call Phase”. Here the moment of decision takes place. Most people think of this as the single moment of rational analysis based on knowable and quantifiable variables. In reality, it is a dynamic process influenced by multiple variables which are often outside of a leader’s direct circle of control or influence. The best leaders make decisions that influence what is happening now but also set up a framework for others to make successful decisions in the future.
Stage #3 is the “Execution Phase.” Once a decision has been made, a leader needs to mobilize resources, e.g. people, information, financial resources, and technology to support it. Furthermore, they need to make it happen while learning and adjusting along the way.
I always add a Stage #4 to this process which is “Evaluation.” By routinely evaluating our strategic choices and decisions as well as our tactical decisions in 1/1 coaching sessions, we strengthen the level of understanding through the organization.
Decision-making is complex and it is important. Our goal as leaders is to teach people how to do it so they are getting better at it each and every week.