Discernment in Decision-Taking
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Discernment in Decision-Taking

The Origin of This Content

A few weeks ago, we published an article that suggested leadership is followership and offered three critical behaviors that good leaders-followers exhibit. One concept—that good followers take decisions—sparked an interesting discussion among our team as we considered how to discern whether a decision “comes from a different approach” versus being “wrong.” Today, we’re going to unpack where we landed on this discussion and provide four steps on how you can apply this specific concept effectively within your leadership.

When Decision-Taking Becomes Touchy

Let’s start with this, a lot of times, it’s easy to take the decisions made by our supervisors and peers. We are chasing down the same mission and vision, honor the same core values, and unite under the same strategic plan. But, every so often, we find ourselves bristling against a decision that a supervisor, peer, or even a direct report is prepared to make (or has already made). 

In those moments, it’s tempting to either half-heartedly go along with the decision (“Yeah, I mean, I guess if that’s what you really want to do”) or to share your concerns with others (“Well, if they would listen to me, they would know this will never work”). We know those behaviors lead to discord and dysfunction, so how do we overcome the temptation to engage in them? Below are four steps that will help both before and after a decision has been made.

  1. Run a Gut Check. Let’s be honest; many of us consider our ideas and our processes part of our identity. When we share ideas, and they aren’t immediately accepted, it can feel like a personal attack. Interestingly, we often experience the same feelings when a colleague makes a decision that doesn’t align with what we’d do or how we’d do it. This is particularly true when they consulted us on the decision and went in another direction, but it also happens when we weren’t consulted at all. In fact, the personal attack at that point goes even deeper because we think, “Why wouldn’t they ask me what I think about this?” That’s why we need a gut check that helps us determine whether our objection is about the efficacy of the decision or about our own ego.
  2. Seek Understanding. Good leaders rely on data to help them shape decisions, but which data? In the world of decision-making, thousands of data points may seem relevant to the moment, and the pieces we collect likely depend on our predetermined beliefs. In other words, we may find ourselves bristling at a decision when confirmation bias rears its head. A simple way to overcome that bias is to ask our colleagues to share the data they consider in their decision-making process. We may discover that our judgment that their decision is “wrong” is founded on the fact that they are considering different data points than we can see and/or that they weigh that data differently than we would. In fact, we may even discover that their way of looking at the decision leads to positive outcomes we would never have considered.
  3. Share Concerns with Clarity. Occasionally, we will run a gut check and seek understanding and still believe a colleague’s decision is a poor one. In that case, it’s crucial to clearly share our concerns directly with our colleagues. To make the conversation productive, state your understanding of the final decision and emphasize the risks you see in taking that approach. Be sure to share the data points you are using to draw those conclusions and, if the decision compromises the mission, vision, values, and/or strategy of the organization, explain how.
  4. Commit to the Decision. If you and your colleague still see things differently after following the steps above, then start looking for ways to support the decision. That may mean deploying a strategy to circumvent the risks you anticipated or finding ways to emphasize the positive aspects of the decision, as your colleague explained them to you.

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A Final Thought: In our experience, very few decisions are truly about right versus wrong. There’s a lot of gray in the world, and decisions often reflect our best attempts to navigate those gray areas. If we keep that in mind when we are called to take decisions, we may find that we bristle less.

Ethos Leadership Group, LLC

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