One of the characteristics of tough decisions is the fact that you will never be able to get all the data you want in selecting an option. Hence, open, spirited debate over which path to take is valuable. Then, you need to make a decision. That is what separates managers from leaders.
I was struck by a recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Bob Lutz, the former Chrysler and GM executive who authored the newly released book: “Car Guys vs Bean Counters.” He said: at GM “personal opinions were discouraged. Open, verbal disagreements were rare. It was hoped that the data generated by swarms of analysts and planners would send a clear message, assuring everyone that this indeed was the only right course. No need to acrimonious discussion.” GM’s culture of shying away from tough decisions for 3 decades resulted in bankruptcy.
The healthiest organizations that I have been a part of encouraged active debate that sometimes came across as confrontational. There is nothing wrong with that as long as it is done with civility. In fact, it’s a good way to get the opinions of others so you can eventually select what you believe is the best option.
So what are the right actions for a leader to take?
1) Assemble the right people; those that know the situation.
2) Review the available data and collect all the opinions and rationales and carefully evaluate them.
3) Decide on the path you think is right and test it with the people you assembled. Carefully listen.
4) Make any modifications to your decision that you think appropriate and then announce the decision and move on.
Ever been part of an organization that is constantly searching for more data but never makes a decision? Frustrating, right?