Many times, leaders will take the easy way out even when it may not be the best for them or their team, or so it appears. In the first blush of analysis, this would be because there is some unforeseen circumstance that they did not act correctly. Usually, in organizational dynamics, some person, division, or department will bring up an issue that is not considered. The leader is second-guessed when the decision is delayed or reversed. The process of second-guessing creates an environment of fear decision making it very difficult for any leader. The focus then becomes on following the norm.
What makes this a challenge for most leaders is that they do not have guiding principles, nor do the organizations. That fact leads to fear and indecision. Neither of which are healthy for anyone. When a leader has not defined what their guiding light they can falter and do a good sound counter-argument. A sound counter-argument does not make a direction or conclusion correct; it just means it is based on a solid group of facts.
The premise is if any decision I make as a leader is based on sound facts, then, therefore, I have made a good choice and can not be second-guessed or overruled. Unfortunately, most leaders rely on this and have become the backbone of the leadership approach today. In addition, leaders will listen to public opinion or social media opinions and adjust their direction even after the original decision has been made and implementation has begun.
We see this occur almost daily in the political environment nationally and locally. An elected official will tentatively put out a decision or plan to the public that they feel will solve an issue. They will then wait as the opinions roll in from all sources. Whatever that view indicates should occur, the decision or plan is adjusted to be a better fit for the idea regardless of facts. Interestingly enough, though, those who developed the plan have the bulk of the data and facts to support a specific direction. Indeed, much more so than those who share opinions based on a soundbite from a press conference or a brief plan fact sheet. Some then wonder why the plan missed the mark or did not solve the problem.
The approach is not, however, limited to the political arena. It may be more anonymous and hidden from view in the corporate and small business setting, but they take the same tact in decision making and moving forward. We as a society have moved from the information age to the opinion age. Our organizations and workplaces operate with an opinion-based approach. The role of public opinion has become the deciding factor and has had negative unintended consequences and results. The outcomes are hurting our organizations, people, and society in general.
The seemingly obvious solution is to get even more input faster or take longer to make decisions, so we get it correct. That would be the last way to the issue based on current results.
A quote comes to mind:
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but judgment, and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
― Edmund Burke
It can be argued that the leaders represent the team and the organization as the decision-making authority. Therefore, it can be said that leader must not sacrifice their best judgment to the opinion of others.
What can and should we do as leaders where opinion rules, even when it is misinformed and is the norm?
We can focus on four items to help us be better leaders:
- Create guiding principles that are absolutes for you. They need to be general enough to cover every situation but specific sufficient for others to understand. You must share them!
- Solicit input at the beginning of a process only and be clear when the approach ends. Be clear about what you want opinions on.
- Take all data, input, and information and your guiding principles into account in deciding your approach.
- Confidently make a decision based on the greater good and stay with it. Be willing and able to explain why you followed that course of action.
As leaders, it is time to move from the opinion age to the wisdom age. We have more information available to us today than in history. We must make the time and space in our schedules to utilize wisdom in our decision-making. Our teams, organizations, and communities expect us to be leaders, be decisive, and solve problems that are a positive result for everyone.
Guiding principles can eliminate the fear of acting, build trust in those we lead, and improve our decisions both in quality and timeliness. Everyone will be better for it, most of all the leader!