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The decision-making model: Three approaches for any given situation

Making decisions is one of the most frequent and critical activities you undertake as a leader.

We’ve all suffered from those decision making gremlins like sunk cost bias, and the fundamental attribution error.

And unfortunately, there are no magic bullets for expert decision making. There is no ‘one right way’ when it comes to making decisions in a leadership role – different approaches suit different situations. The problem is that all too often, leaders rely on one decision making approach that works well in one set of circumstances but falls short in others.

That’s why the following model comes in handy.You can use this model to help you decide which decision-making approach to use in any given situation.

Here are some examples when there is a clear ‘yes’ for an “I decide” approach:

  • In a moment of crisis. A pilot asking their co-pilot “what should we do?” when the plane is in an emergency landing situation isn’t clever by anyone’s standards.
  • When the team member is brand new to a task.
  • When there are non-negotiable rules – especially around things like health and safety.

A clear ‘yes’ for a “we decide” approach:

  • When you need a creative solution to a problem that affects a wide variety of stakeholders.
  • When people’s input and opinions are crucial to their buy-in to a strategy or project.

A clear ‘yes’ for a “you decide” approach:

  • When the person is extremely skilled and experienced at a task and the trust is high.
  • Where to have the Christmas party (provided clear parameters are provided).

Build trust with your team by being transparent about which approach you’re adopting and why. If you’ve decided a certain situation requires a hierarchical approach – “I decide” – don’t mask it as cooperation and then veto the outcome, or manipulate the conversation to reach your desired outcome. This will just frustrate the heck out of your team and lower trust within the group. A better approach would be to adopt the “I decide” approach, communicate this to the team and most importantly, outline why you’ve decided to make the call yourself.

Before making any decisions as a leader, it’s important to take a step back. Think about the situation and the desired outcome. This will help guide your choice of approach, because every situation will be unique and will suit a different approach. Make sure you are open about your approach to build trust and confidence in your team.

Which decision-making approach do you use the most often in leadership? I’d love to hear from you!

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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