Decision making. It’s one of the most important competencies we look for in leaders. In fact, it’s not just for leaders, of course. We all make decisions, and whether we’re leaders or not, our decisions rarely only affect just us. So, we train people in Decision Making like it’s going out of style. We present leaders with model of how to evaluate options and to reach conclusions in a very prescribed, systematic way.
That’s important. Having a framework for our decisions is helpful. So, why do we consistently see leaders making the wrong decisions, prompting organizational decline, or at the very least, launching crises?
It’s really quite simple. We’ve spent so much time over the past several decades actively training strategic decision making, but neglecting tactical assessment and adaptability in our people.
Let my give you an example of this distinction….
The U. S. Army spends considerable time teaching its leaders all sorts of decision making, from strategic, big picture to tactical. Much of that training is done in classrooms, but everything that is presented in the classroom is then tested in the field. So, what does that look like? Are they carefully scripted, planned evolutions? Nope, the put leaders in the field and simply watch how they react to fluid changes “on the battlefield.” Instructors observe. Followers observe. Peers observe. Outcomes are evaluated.
If this seems a bit like a 360-degree assessment, it is in many ways. It’s a 360-degree assessment process designed specifically around a particular competency – the ability of leaders to make those tactical tweaks and adjustments to respond to the continuously changing conditions, while keeping the objective in sight.
“That’s all well and good,” business leaders have said to me. “We don’t have a ‘field exercise,’ through which to put our leaders, though.”
In fact, you do, and it’s more than likely a much more realistic and safer exercise….It’s called the job.
In other words, there’s no reason why training on decision making can’t be followed up with an inexpensive, applied assessment process that evaluates the specific abilities of leaders to adapt to a fluid and constantly changing environment. Yet, comparatively few organizations do this. Instead, they rely training for the long-term to the detriment of teaching (in an applied manner) the importance of tactical adaptation. The result, their leaders find the trajectory of their focus consistently off-course, requiring much larger and more disruptive course corrections (which are more prone to staff resistance and ultimate failure)
Within your organization, what approach do you take? Do you focus on formal, strategic decision making frameworks, or do you go a step further to measure the extent to which your leaders’ decision making competence is applicable in changing environments? After all, when you drive your car, you know you need to stay on the road to make it to your destination. So, your hands are constantly adjusting minutely to the conditions of the road. If you wait until your tires hit the curb, you’ll have a much more difficult time correcting and keeping the car on the road. Right?