Esther walked into the conference room and saw Grace sitting there, head in hands.
“What’s wrong, Grace?”
“It’s Paul, he still hasn’t decided on authorizing me to hire SysCon. He owed me a decision last week and now we’re going to slip our code-complete date.”
Esther smirked. “Sorry about that Grace; it doesn’t surprise me. He’s a disaster at making decisions.”
“Don’t you know it. He not only doesn’t make decisions when I need them, he doesn’t even give me the courtesy of letting me know when the decision will be made. Then he blames me if something slips. I’m tired of it.”
Esther leaned over to Grace and whispered. “Grace, I haven’t told anyone yet, but I just accepted a position at Miconal this morning. They asked me if anyone else was interested in coming over. You’d be a great addition there.”
Grace perked up. “Hmm. Do you have a contact there?”
“Send it on to my personal email. Thanks Esther.” Grace smiled, packed up her things, and left the conference room.
Grace’s frustration with Paul is something many of us have experienced. If you were a Grace, you got frustrated with a leader who couldn’t make decisions, didn’t make them in a timely manner, or acted impulsively. To put some meat on the bones, I’d like to contrast what I call intentional decision-making with reckless decision-making. Intentional decision-making means decisions are made on time, based on available information, by the right person, and with the good of the organization in focus. Reckless decision-making is the inverse; decisions not made in a timely manner (or at all), not based on available information, made by someone not authorized or informed to make the decision, or driven by some agenda not focused on the good of the organization. Intentional decision-making balances speed with decision quality, while reckless decision-making unduly emphasizes either speed or quality at the expense of the other.
Are you a reckless decision-maker who wants to be more intentional? Consider these 12 tips:
The Consequences: Not being intentional about decision-making can result in the following consequences:
The Next Steps:
Brent was having a routine one-on-one with his boss Gail in her office. Over the six months since joining her organization, Brent noticed something different about Gail compared to his past bosses.
“Gail, can I ask you a question?” Brent asked.
“When you share your wisdom with others you are so transparent, even willing to admit when you were wrong about something. That’s very different from other bosses I’ve had. How did you get there?”
“Good question,” she said. “I learned a long time ago that wisdom is extremely valuable. Seeking and sharing it can make the difference between success and failure. Because I deeply care about not only my success but the success of others, I decided I needed to be willing to not just seek wisdom from others but candidly share my wisdom with others to improve their chances of success. I adopted what I call a wisdom steward mindset.”
“Wisdom steward?” he asked.
“Yes,” Gail said just as her phone beeped. She looked at the message. “Darn, I need to prep something for the board meeting in an hour. Can we continue the wisdom steward discussion at our one-on-one next week?”
“Sure,” Brent said.
“OK, see you later then.”
Brent got up and went back to his cubicle. “A wisdom steward?” he thought to himself as he sat in his chair.
So, what is a wisdom steward? To understand the concept you first have to understand the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is facts and information learned through a number of sources. You can gain knowledge from a book, a discussion, the news, or personal experience. Wisdom is what you do with that knowledge. You can’t have wisdom without knowledge, but you can certainly have knowledge without wisdom.
Let’s look at touching a hot stove as an example. If you touch a hot stove, you gain the knowledge that it is hot and touching it will burn your hand. Wisdom is making a sensible decision based on the knowledge that the stove burns. Not touching the stove a second time means you’re applying wisdom to knowledge. If you do touch the stove and get burned again, you didn’t apply wisdom to the knowledge you had. So, knowledge is knowing the stove is hot; wisdom is deciding to not touch it.
Next let’s talk about how wisdom is acquired. Wisdom can be gained through first-hand experience or guided experience. First-hand experience is the stove example. Guided experience is gained through learning from others. Bill told me he touched the hot stove and burned his hand, so I won’t touch the hot stove. You gained wisdom not because you did something first-hand; you learned from someone else’s experience. In both cases you made a wise choice not to touch the stove, but in one you learned on your own and the other you learned from someone else.
Now let’s dig into how this relates to wisdom stewardship. For guided wisdom to work there must be two engaged parties. The first is the wisdom seeker. A wisdom seeker is humble and genuinely looks to gain wisdom from others to help him or her make a sensible decision. The second is the wisdom sharer. A wisdom sharer is transparent and candidly offers wisdom gained either first-hand or learned from others to help the seeker make a sensible decision. A wisdom steward is someone who values both genuinely seeking and transparently sharing wisdom.
Are you a wisdom steward? Ask yourself these questions:
If you’re not a wisdom steward, then you might be a wisdom boaster, hoarder, poser, hesitator, or pontificator. Stay tuned for future posts on each of those five personas to see if any of them fit you.
As an individual contributor, Joe was praised by his management for his speed in delivering results. His management was so enamored with his ability to get things done quickly that he was promoted to a leader role over a team of ten. Joe’s speed in taking action carried over into his decision making. He saw making decisions fast as a sign of getting “real work done,” versus sitting around talking about things. “Great leaders don’t have all the facts,” he would say to his team, as justification for moving forward without a good understanding of a decision’s implications. Joe’s team learned to just say, “Yes, Sir,” and do their best to execute what Joe wanted done by the time expected. His impulsive decision making came to a head with a new hire named Greg.
Joe interviewed Greg for a product management position, who talked a great game and quickly won Joe over. Joe made an impulsive decision to hire Greg without checking his references. After Greg started working, it didn’t take long for others to see he was clearly unqualified for the position. Suspicious of Greg’s claims, Joe did some digging and found he had embellished the accomplishments on his resume. The team and Joe went through several stressful months cleaning up Greg’s messes until he was finally let go. Joe eventually recovered as a leader but learned a painful lesson about impulsive decision making; and he had to earn back credibility with his team.
Before I go further, I want to level-set on what I view as impulsive and deliberate leaders.
An impulsive leader prioritizes decision speed over decision quality
A deliberate leader balances decision speed with decision quality
Let’s break this down. Impulsive leaders want to move quickly on a decision and tend to use the concept of “imperfect information” as license to not do their homework. They are very action-oriented but run into problems from not thinking through decisions before acting. To an impulsive leader, need dates aren’t as important as moving fast. An impulsive leader may not have the time to do something right the first time, but will need extra time later to re-do or un-do something.
In contrast, deliberate leaders are mindful of decision speed, but only as input into overall decision quality. They understand the concept of imperfect information, but don’t use it as an excuse to not learn what they can about a decision’s implications. They can be every bit as action oriented as an impulsive leader.
What are some warning signs that you might be an impulsive leader? Here are seven:
Do any of these warning signs resonate with you? If so, then give these eight tips a look to help you make the journey from impulsive to deliberate leadership:
Remember, impulsive leaders prioritize speed over decision quality, while deliberate leaders balance speed with quality. Keep these eight tips in mind to improve the quality of your decision making and become a more effective leader of followers.
Bill was a newly appointed project manager over a mission-critical systems development initiative. Ann, Bill’s boss, trusted Bill to lead the initiative and gave him the latitude he needed to execute without getting in his way. While the two worked well together, they did struggle in one area: decision-making. They had several instances where Ann was surprised by key decisions Bill made but didn’t inform Ann. Bill also didn’t benefit from Ann’s experience on several issues and made uninformed decisions that hurt the project. Ann asked Bill to include her more on decisions, but Bill took that as him needing to come to her on decisions he could have made on his own. Bill grew frustrated with his perception of Ann micromanaging him, whereas Ann just wanted to ensure she was in the loop on key decisions. The project ultimately got done, but not without a lot of friction between the two.
Key to a leader who empowers followers is the ability for the follower to make decisions without always having to ask the leader for permission. When done well, the follower is able to execute more nimbly and with greater ownership. When done not so well (as the case above), both the leader and follower are likely to be frustrated by missteps, poor communication, and potentially damaging decisions that were made without enough information. I’ve learned through doing this wrong so many times that there are four degrees of decision-making where the leader and follower agree as to the amount of guidance and input provided in decision-making. The degrees, or what I like to refer as guard rails, are as follows:
By creating four distinct decision-making categories, it acknowledges not just the extremes (get approval and don’t inform), but also acknowledges there are some decisions where a leader should provide input into a follower’s decision (seek advice) as well as those decisions where the leader should be kept in loop on the decision (inform only). By slotting types of decisions into these four categories, both the leader and follower are better aligned on the decisions being made and the degree of involvement the leader should have in the decision.
To successfully implement guard rails, leaders need to do the following:
Take the time up front to get clarity on decision-making expectations using guard rails. It will help reduce friction between the leader and follower and promote a more healthy empowering relationship.