- Heifetz, Ronald A. Leadership Without Easy Answers The Belknap Press 1994
- Are flaws in decision making causing conflict and poor alignment--a quick diagnostic
- We have a consensus!....?
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|Neil Baker Consulting and Coaching||
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This article addresses a question I’m asked frequently by leaders: How can I foster an environment of empowerment when I have to make decisions at times which may cause some people to feel disempowered and distressed?
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In this article, you will learn the basics of power literacy in order to enhance your effectiveness.
Not only are there hundreds of thousands of books on leadership and associated topics but they offer a bewildering variety of frameworks, models, and terminologies.
On the one hand, this is a very good thing. Having served as a leader for many years, I have been deeply appreciative of many great approaches.
But, as a leader, I usually faced a huge number of issues every day. It was hard to recall more than a few strategies in the moment.
So, all through my career I have sought one short list of strategies for easy reference that would be powerful in problem-solving across many types of situations.
Could it be possible to create such a list? Find out more in the Resource Guide for In-the-Moment Leadership Strategies available for subscribers only. Click on the button below to subscribe for free monthly articles and obtain a link to the Guide as well as other resources.
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Barriers to progress like lack of alignment or conflict that are difficult to resolve are fairly common. One seemingly quite logical interpretation is that the primary cause of such barriers is the way people are communicating.
But, problematic communication could be secondary to--a result of--flaws in decision-making processes. Such flaws may not be recognized as an important source of relational problems. When people then dive into discussions, they are at risk for having unexpressed concerns, differing views, and assumptions about how decisions will be made.
As a result, it is more difficult to sustain dialogue—a process of eliciting and assuring mutual understanding of differing ideas, opinions, and perceptions. Instead, due to the prevailing uncertainties, people are more likely to fall into debates, arm-twisting, coaxing, and pressuring which disrupt efforts to achieve alignment.
Identifying flaws in decision making and doing something about them can help significantly to shift a murky, entangled debate into a clear, effective process of dialogue.
Common decision-making errors include lack of clarity about: who has the authority to make the call; the type of decision being used; whether there will be input before and after decisions are made in order to address concerns; or if those impacted will be involved in the design of the implementation plan.
A quick diagnostic for flaws in decision making process (to support high quality dialogue):
Types of decision making: (1)
The following two decision types mesh best with the objective of promoting high quality dialogue.
Maintaining high quality dialogue while also maintaining clarity and quality of decision making processes is an important and nuanced balancing act. It takes art, skill, and ongoing, deliberate practice by individual leaders and by teams.
Additional brief articles on decision making
(1) Special thanks to Robert Crosby. See his book Walking the Empowerment Tightrope 1992.
Well-functioning work partnerships are not easy to build and maintain. They "always involve awareness, intention, and choice on an ongoing, minute-by-minute basis." (Cheesebrow, 2012)
In complex systems, there are many opportunities for misunderstandings which can disrupt partnerships.
Decision making is an especially sensitive area. In particular, making decisions unilaterally can be very negatively provocative for those who are impacted but were not involved in the decision process. Years of work building trust can be disrupted in such circumstances leading to poor quality of future problem solving and diminished engagement with implementation. (Fisher and Shapiro, 2005)
Decision making is so important for partnerships that consulting with key work partners before deciding should always be considered. In fact, while there are no absolutes and unilateral decisions are sometimes necessary, consultation is usually advisable. (Fisher and Shapiro, 2005)
This does not mean that decision making authority is abdicated by those who have it. Even if there are negative feelings about a decision, acknowledgement of the input along with explanation about how it was considered tends to mitigate problematic effects. Prior consultation helps others feel included. Also, valuable input may be provided.
A drawback of consulting might be prolonged decision making. But, the experience of respectful involvement usually facilitates better problem solving in the course of implementation.
Overall, "partnership is a conscious act, not a reflexive one." (Cheesebrow, 2012)
One method of group decision making I have observed, not uncommonly, is for someone to vigorously put forth a proposed decision and look around the room.
A few people remain silent and still, a few nod their heads, and maybe one or two exclaim “Yes.” Then the person who wants the decision announces: "We have a consensus!" (After all, "everyone agreed--no one stated any objections.")
Poor implementation and outcomes in such situations are quite likely. High quality consensus requires that each person give explicit indication of being able both to live with the decision and to fully commit to successful implementation—even if not fully satisfied. This occurs only with balanced, fair, and rational discussion in which everyone participates and everyone feels heard. (Chris Mcgoff The Primes, 2012 and Peter Scholtes et al The Team Handbook, 1989)
Poor quality consensus decisions result from lack of a shared definition of consensus, lack of a systematic and clear way for each person to indicate if they are in consensus, and arguments and debates as opposed to assuring all opinions are fully heard. Also, use of traditional definitions like "no one voices objections," "everyone agrees with everything," "everyone is fully satisfied," or "majority rules" are not effective and perhaps even destructive to the best efforts. (McGoff, 2012)
Groups have used a wide variety of methods for each person to specifically indicate if they are in consensus: An example is to use a scale of 1 - 5 with "5" meaning a high level of enthusiasm and "1" meaning no enthusiasm. A cut-off is defined (e.g at a rating of '1" or "2" even from just one person) which means insufficient enthusiasm to commit to implementation. The effort to come to a decision would then stop and dialogue would be restarted. This might lead to revision of the proposed decision or a shift in enthusiasm due to deeper exploration of issues. This iterative process increases the odds of a creative decision and shared motivation for implementation.
High quality consensus decision making is not easy. It requires high quality dialogue so that decisions reflect the thinking of all group members. The skills for moving back and forth between checking for consensus and dialogue require a good deal of intentional practice over time.
Manager behaviors have substantial impact on the experience of collaboration and partnership between employees (i.e. the climate of trust).
In one research study, while there were multiple influential manager behaviors, two had the strongest impact, accounting for 34 percent of the variance in the overall climate of trust. (from Gervase Bushe, Clear Leadership: sustaining real collaboration at work. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2010)
One variable causing negative impact was a manager's degree of fusion: this was defined as having a hard time saying no, being easily swayed by emotional appeals, showing a desire to please everyone, and getting too close to people.
The other variable causing negative impact was a manager's lack of clear self-boundaries: this was defined by multiple factors including not staying calm under stress, basing decisions on perceptions rather than facts, and lack of skilled management of disagreements (e.g. not separating the issues from feelings about a person).
Conclusion: The study indicates that managers who do not manage their feelings very well or "who want to please everyone reduce the level of collaboration among people in an organization." (Bushe, 2010)
At a recent conference on leadership, some participants expressed strong negative reactions to even the mention of hierarchy and positional authority which they saw as unavoidably dis-empowering and controlling.
In contrast, some participants in past conferences have had strong negative reactions to mentions of equality, participation in decisions, and consensus which were seen as asking for role confusion, intolerable delays in decisions, and stalled initiatives.
Balancing equality vs.hierarchy is an example of one of many challenges for which there are no risk-free, easy answers. In response to this uncertainty, it is not uncommon for people to develop hardened, polarized positions---a process Oshry calls "dancing into the tunnel of limited options." (Barry Oshry, Seeing Systems, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc., 2007).
Instead, by recognizing and accepting the lack of risk-free, simple answers, more nuanced strategies can be developed. For example, types of decision making might vary in different situations. Or, consensus decision making might include back-up resolution methods to assure timelines.The objective is to increase everyone's capacity to "respond complexly to complex situations." (Oshry 2007)
(1) have a clear definition of the operational problem or issue that started the change process and (2) formulate specific new behavioral goals." (Schein, 2004).
Change is about learning new behaviors to achieve specific goals. Just planning "cultural change" without such concrete guideposts risks being too nebulous and creating anxiety and resistance which inhibit learning.
Key approaches to facilitate motivation for learning which Schein emphasizes include: (1) engaging people in a compelling positive vision; (2) legitimizing the pain of unlearning old ways; (3) enabling participation in design of implementation; and (4) providing coaching, training, feedback, positive teamwork and other types of support.
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