Get It Done Yesterday! Impulsive Vs. Deliberate Leadership Decision Making

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:

Reversals on bad decisions are the rule not the exception.
You typically get pushback from followers on your decisions.
Followers execute to your instructions versus owning the problem and figuring out the “how” on their own.
You can’t align decision due dates with a business need.
You’re unable to articulate choices and consequences of decision alternatives.
You regularly use the phrase “failure is not an option,” when asked about the consequences of failure.
You frequently say something like “ASAP,” or “Yesterday,” when a follower asks when something needs to be done.

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:

Admit you are an impulsive leader – The first step in transforming from an impulsive to a deliberate leader is an introspective admission that you are impulsive. Be brutally honest, even if the answer is something you don’t want to hear.
Be clear on the what, why, who, and when – When faced with a decision, take the time to physically write out the decision, why it’s being made, who it impacts, and when it needs to be made by to seize upon an opportunity or avoid a bad consequence. Unless you’re faced with a decision that requires split-second action, i.e., swerving versus braking to avoid a car accident, taking a few minutes to frame up the decision characteristics is time well spent.
Throttle the decision to the need-by date – I’ve known plenty of leaders who are simply impatient and want something done right away. However, action for the sake of taking action without regard for a need-by date can result in an unnecessarily lesser-informed decision. Know when your decision needs to be made and pace the actions accordingly.
Write out the alternatives and consequences – Once you’ve framed the decision and when you need it made, be intentional about the alternatives and consequences, including a “do nothing” alternative. Outlining alternatives and what could happen under each one is a forcing function that helps you slow down and be more thoughtful about the decision. Don’t forget the need-by date.
Think about risks as reckless or calculated – If you’re looking for risk-free decision alternatives, you’ll thrust yourself into decision paralysis. Joyfully embrace that there will be some risks to your decision, but be intentional about classifying the risk as reckless (acting without thinking about consequences) or calculated (thinking about consequences and having mitigations in place in case something goes wrong).
Syndicate your thinking along the way – I’ve seen way too many leaders hunker down in an office to think through a problem, then emerge like Moses with the stone tablets to proclaim their answer. Unless the decision is confidential, take the team on the journey with you, letting them know the decision you’re grappling with, and its characteristics, alternatives and consequences. I’ve been most successful with implementing decisions that affected my team when they knew things were in the works and they had opportunities to influence my thinking before the decision was made.
Surround yourself with deliberate people – Great leaders know their weaknesses and surround themselves with people who are strong in those areas. More importantly, they actively listen to them. This isn’t to say the leader always accepts advice given; but they listen and provide rationale as to why they’ve chosen to not accept the advice.
Ask advice of non-stakeholders – Some of the best leaders I’ve known not only possess great first-hand experiential wisdom, but humbly and actively seek out candid wisdom from others who are not directly impacted by the decision. The leader still owns the final decision, but he or she allows others to influence his or her thinking. This takes a bit of courage, because someone could throw cold water on what you may think is a great idea, but it could save you a lot of downstream pain trying to recover from a bad decision.

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.

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How to Become a Leader for All Seasons

There is an age old question: are leaders born or made? If they are born, it would seem they are equipped to handle the challenges of leadership for any situation. If they are made, it will require constant training to navigate new scenarios. Whether leaders are born or made, when they don’t have all the answers, they will be able to lean on more seasoned executives for advice. However, what happens when everyone is faced with a situation that no one has ever witnessed, like the recent global pandemic?

If leaders are born, it would seem they magically have answers and a style to fit all occasions. Some will call them intuitive leaders who seem to have a way of navigating themselves and others through challenging times. And 2020 ushered in a challenge that has forced everyone to change and deal with a new normal. These are the times the masses look to leaders for direction.

Except, you have to wonder if there are limits to born leaders. Are they prepared for all occasions? Are they really born with the ability to lead? Or did they grow up in an environment where leadership was part of their education? There are many people who were raised in a home with parents who were entrepreneurs. Or their father may have been a CEO in a major corporation. Those children would have been exposed to conversations with their parents or colleagues of their parents that revolved around being responsible for the well being of others, making tough decisions, focusing on a vision and mission, understanding the cost of hiring and firing people and many other aspects of leadership. On the surface, it would appear they were born with leadership in their DNA. The fact of the matter is they were being educated almost at birth.

Historically, when we look at leaders like Ghengis Khan, Alexander the Great and Hannibal, we see their fathers were also great leaders – kings or generals. The men I named above grew up with an education that is unlike most. Perhaps you could say their environment made them.

At the same time, there are those who never lived in an environment with leaders. They either sought leaders to be their mentors, went through formal education or worked in an organization that provided training and opportunities to utilize the leadership education. For most, it would be obvious they were made into leaders.

With that said, what is happening with leaders today. The world is facing a situation that no leader in recent history was part of. While there was a pandemic in 1919, how many of today’s leaders were around to have experienced that? Besides, today more than ever the world is connected through a global economy. In one way or another, we all depend on other countries to support us for manufacturing, food or services. This time we are really in this together.

Perhaps this is the time we learn to leverage one another in a way we have never done in the past. It may also be a great opportunity to retrain ourselves to deal with constant change. By that, I am not saying there is never stability. I am saying the world is changing faster than ever through technology and globalization. The global pandemic may be the wake up call for us all to develop a new mindset that is more nimble and better able to deal with constant changes and uncertainty.

It will require a mindset that is prepared to venture into completely new paradigms while maintaining the integrity of the existing business models. New paradigms often require new skills, knowledge, mindset and the ability to invent information that no one has seen. It also requires a fair amount of risk tolerance. On one hand, the new paradigm can be disruptive and hugely successful, like the iPhone. On the other, it can miss the mark and fail. Except, the lessons learned can be the catalyst for other opportunities, like Post-Its.

For leaders to build that kind of nimble enterprise, executives would have to put themselves through a sizable amount of training and transformation. The next step would be to train the rest of the organization. This kind of training does not mean leadership will have all the answers in the face of today’s global pandemic. It simply means the transformative training allows them to be more nimble mentally. That allows them to not be as reactive as people who operate in status quo. The transformative leaders will be better positioned to step back and look at the landscape for opportunities as they leverage the brain power of those around them.

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From Theory to Reality: Implementing Innovative Leadership Concepts That Stick

Hal was a new leader over a team of six followers. He committed to his manager that he would be a “learning leader,” and read leadership books to improve his skills. Almost every month in team meetings Hal included a book report on his latest book and the leadership techniques he wanted to put into practice. At first the team was receptive, but after the first few books a pattern emerged. Hal would talk about what he learned and implement the new methods… until he read the newest book on his list, making the previous book’s approach yesterday’s news-pushed aside. The team grew exasperated with Hal’s technique du jour only to have it replaced with a newer model. Even worse, the theory stayed just that, theory. Hal evaluated himself based on his knowledge; the team evaluated him based on his actions. Hal ultimately lost his team leader role; all that theory never making its way to reality.

As of this writing there are over 60,000 leadership books on Amazon. Each author (including me) tries to take a unique spin on some aspect of leadership in hopes of appealing to leaders of all types. Some books have been highly influential (think The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People), while others not so much. With so many choices on the market and new ones being released all the time, a leader can get overwhelmed with the number of authors shouting at them about how to be a better leader. Even if a leader narrows his reading list down to just a few books, he is faced with what to do with the concepts the author is peddling. Perhaps it will be a discussion topic at a staff meeting, or the basis of a team-building exercise at an offsite meeting. More often than not, the hot concepts of today stay just that: concepts. Translating leadership concepts into reality that can actually grow a leader’s skills takes deliberate action.

Want to be more intentional about weaving leadership concepts into your leadership fabric? Consider these five take-aways:

Set expectations with yourself and the team – A team deserves to know what to expect from its leader, including the desire to grow leadership skills across the team. Ensure your team knows that you are an active learner and, in the spirit of growing skills across the team, want to do some leadership concept experimentation. It’s particularly important that you treat leadership experiments just like you would any project; have a goal, timeframe, activities, and any accountabilities you expect of the team and yourself.
Actively learn, selectively experiment – I say this as a leadership author myself: authors are looking for provocative ideas that put new spins on leadership in the hopes it will catch fire and sell millions of copies. As a learning leader, it’s your job to filter out concepts that won’t work well in your team and only use those that have a greater likelihood of success. For example, in No Rules Rules, Reed Hastings of Netflix has instilled a culture of minimalist policies that empower employees to do things that many other companies wouldn’t permit. A mid-level leader can’t realistically implement this concept if his or her organization is more policy driven.
Don’t let experiments get in the way of getting work done – At the end of the day the team still has commitments it needs to achieve. Doing leadership concept experiments is certainly fine as a means of growing the skills of a team. However, if it causes team members to burn the midnight oil to get their day job done, then the experiment will have a reduced chance of success. And team members will likely resent the experiment because it creates more work. Be open to the team’s feedback on both the frequency of experiments and how much time team members are expected to dedicate.
Post-mortem the experiments – Once the experiment is complete, conduct a candid assessment of the experiment; what concepts worked well, what didn’t work well, and what concepts (if any) the leader and team agree to continue practicing. It’s perfectly acceptable to get to the end of an experiment and decide none of the techniques will pass muster.
Demonstrate adaptation – As a leader, I’ve gotten all excited about some new leadership concept only to drift back to old behaviors over time. Focus on a small number of leadership improvements (between one and three) and demonstrate through action how you’ve incorporated the improvements. A team will follow its leader’s example. If you change, your team will change; if you go back to your old ways, the team will follow suit.

There’s no shortage of leadership tips and tricks any leader willing to learn can tap into. Just be intentional about what you decide to take on and focus on bringing leadership concepts to reality.

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5 Questions Leading to the Right Root Cause

Once an area of waste has been identified and a specific problem is identified as the “best” opportunity, the next step often involves finding the root cause of the problem.

This is a critically-important step and, if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves working on the “wrong assumptions.”

In fact, we’ve consistently found that few things are more dangerous than common knowledge – when it is wrong.

Root causes are tricky and elusive things. Brainstorming and the “Five Whys” can be effective tools, but neither approach guarantees the “right” result or conclusion. In fact, when the “wrong” root cause is selected, the most common culprit is an untested conclusion.

The best course of action is to think quite broadly when brainstorming and to consider carefully every possible way that the people, technology, information, materials, environment, or methods might be contributing to the problem.

In addition, when the brainstorming of possibilities is over, we should put on our skeptical hat and test each one – before going to the next “why” to find the root cause. Otherwise, we risk arriving at the wrong conclusion.

Here are five key questions you might consider to test a possible cause is to see if it is consistent with the data you already have.:

Did the proposed cause precede the effect? If not, it is probably not the real cause. If poor call response rate is being blamed on the new answering system, was the call response rate better before the system was installed? If not, the new system cannot be the culprit.
Does the data indicate the problem is trending or cyclical? If so, you can probably rule out ideas about causes that would produce steady effects. For example, to test the possibility that shipping errors are on the rise due to poor technology, ask whether the technology has changed. If there have been no changes in the technology, any changes in the results must be caused by something else.
What other effects would you see if the proposed cause were true? Are you seeing them? If not, look elsewhere for the cause. For example, to test whether ‘poor morale’ is causing a high number of defects, ask where else would signs of poor morale show up. Are you seeing them there?
If the proposed cause were not true, could the effect have happened? Could the product weight be dropping if a blockage had not developed in the dispensing line? If the answer is ‘no’, you know you must find the blockage.
If the cause had been X, would it always produce this effect? If the answer is ‘yes’, then in order to test this, you simply need to check whether the supposed cause actually occurred. For example, if my car will not start, a possible cause is that I left the lights on. (I drive one of those old fashioned cars that require operator involvement to turn off the lights.) If I check and find the lights are in the ‘on’ position, I can confirm my theory. Otherwise, I must keep looking for the cause.

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When It’s Time to Return to Work

Many of us have seen first hand how quickly our children have become disenchanted with getting up and dressed for school each day, how demotivated they’ve become about learning and education.

But that loss of engagement has not only happened to children during the global pandemic. Working from home, hardly bothering to get washed or dressed for the obligatory zoom meeting, being on furlough, perhaps being paid to do nothing or very little has turned many of us away from being the inspired, motivated career achievers we once were.

We’ve learned to manage on less, value different things and, for quite a few of us, rejoining the corporate or business world of early starts, long days and time spent on the road doesn’t really do it for us anymore.

But town centres are needing to be revived, shops, office premises, gyms and hospitality are all needing to have life breathed back into them once again, landlords are keen to see their properties occupied and earning income. It’s time to return to work.

If you’re a business owner how are you going to re-engage your workforce, now that it’s time to return to work?

- Recognition of where your people are coming from, how they’re feeling is an important first step in identifying where you need to focus. When someone has been out of their regular routine for such a long time, with all the ancillary real-time concerns they’ve been experiencing, perhaps about home schooling, estrangement from friends and family, uncertainty about the future, the allure of work may well have paled into relative insignificance.

- Identifying and addressing their different concerns is an important starting point. When you show that you understand and care about their issues it helps staff to feel listened to and valued, a vital stepping-stone on the road back to your business’s new normal.

- Many employees have justifiable concerns about the ending of furlough and the impact that will have on their job security, terms and conditions of employment and their future financial and career prospects. And, of course, many businesses will need time to get back on their feet, perhaps using loans and negotiations with suppliers, staff and landlords to survive. The financial ramifications may need to be managed to include part-time work, working from home, redundancies and some staff becoming self-employed contractors, at least initially.

- Open and honest communications are a positive way of demonstrating that you care, have integrity and take your role as an employer seriously. Regular staff briefings which give good, reliable information and clarity, scheduling Q&A sessions and maybe providing an open door policy, where staff can privately discuss their specific concerns can help foster a more engaged and loyal commitment to returning to work.

- Allow staff ideas and contributions, suggestions to improve business growth, to be listened to and given due consideration. Some staff may be keen to become involved in actioning their suggestions, which is a good way for them to feel directly engaged and involved in the business and its future success. By acknowledging and giving them credit for their contributions you enable them to feel more tangibly on board.

- There are those who may need a flexible approach to resuming their working hours due to a change in their circumstances. Some staff may only be able to return gradually, cautiously to their duties, finding any perceived stress or pressure overwhelming. By demonstrating that you’ve listened, are prepared to accommodate them as best you can and are doing everything possible to support their mental and physical safety, health and wellbeing you’ll find that staff engagement should consistently start to improve.

- But don’t forget about those who are super-keen to resume their career progression and have had to put their enthusiasm on hold for over a year. Nurture and encourage their drive and motivation with ongoing mentoring, exciting business development opportunities and areas of personal responsibility, like special projects or new initiatives that challenge them and suit their skills and future goals. These are the staff who could well provide the lift your business needs to revive it, ready for the next phase of your journey to success.

You too, have had the toughest of times this last twelve months or so. Be gentle with yourself and commit to regular breaks, good self-care and a positive approach to your daily life. Reviving your business requires you to be strong and resilient, so remember the importance of healthy nutrition, regular hydration, quality sleep, exercise, fun and time with the special people in your life. You’re your business’s most important resource, so equip yourself well now that it’s time to return to work.

Susan Leigh, South Manchester counsellor, hypnotherapist, relationship counsellor, writer & media contributor offers help with relationship issues, stress management, assertiveness and confidence. She works with individual clients, couples and provides corporate workshops and support.

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