Strategic Leaders Make Decisions and Take Actions

Strategic leaders have an impact through their actions that and the actions of their teams. Ultimately, it is these actions that will result in something happening either positively or negatively. I am using the term “action” in the broadest sense here. An action can be something that is done physically, behavior or written communication, it can be large or small and involve one person or a group. The outcome of an action is that something is different after the action was taken than before. In other words, there are consequences to these actions. The consequences of an action can be intentional or unintentional from the person implementing the action and may or may not be under their control. From a leadership perspective we can define a number of stages to action and desired consequences, as follows:

  1. An action often starts with a decision, i.e,. what needs to be done and which course of action to take. The first critical part of an action is effective decision making.

  2. If the action and decision involves more than one person there is often the need to raise and manage conflict. This may involve aligning those effected by the decision or other key stakeholders to take the desired action.

  3. Usually a decision requires that the system will move from a current state to a new desired state. Most actions require the system to change. Strategic leaders need to be effective at leading this change of state for the actions to have a positive outcome.

  4. Finally, an action will lead to consequences and if implemented successfully will lead to a measurable change in results.

I have described a linear process here but some larger actions can be more complicated and involve a number of decisions and conflicts and small change steps. It may be that after the measurable change in results, further actions are taken based on those results and the cycle starts again (rinse and repeat).

Decision Making is Key to Taking Actions

From my experience, the best leaders have a robust process for making decisions and are able to balance all of the elements that go into making the right decision. They also are able to balance the need for speed in making decisions with a level of rigor that is needed to make the actions from the decision be implementable. Finally, they have the courage in their convictions to implement decisions even when the consequences are not always in their favor.

Before making a decision a strategic leader needs to consider the following questions:

  • What is effective decision making?

  • Who should be the decision maker(s)?

  • What are some of the danger signs to be aware of when making a decisions?

  • What emotions should you be aware of in making a decisions?

  • How should a decision be made?

Effective decision making is first and foremost a decision that is made around a course of action that will result in the optimal outcome of those actions. It is usually made considering a number of options and deciding on a way forward. An effective decision is one that is made at the right time and considers the question – why does the decision need to be made now? It takes into account the risk of delaying deciding on a course of action. Sometimes the worst case scenario is indecision, i.e., not doing anything based on not being able to decide what to do. There are occasions when a decision can be delayed so that more data can be gathered to make the decision more robust. On the other hand, an effective decision is one that is not made too hastily or without the necessary analysis of the options or the consequences of an action. Another characteristic of an effective decision is one that will result in an implementable course of action. There is little value in making a decision that cannot be implemented or that may result in unintended consequences.

An effective decision should be made following a disciplined robust process that balances rigor with speed and takes into account short and longer-term goals. To make an effective decision multiple alternative options should be considered at the outset and the decision makers should not get locked into one course of action too early in the process. The most effective decisions are ones which gather information and data. This information should be used to forecast the potential benefits of the decision and subsequent actions. It should also include an analysis of the risks of any course of action. An effective decision should also involve people in the decision that are needed to be bought into the action. Finally, an effective decision is one where the impact of the actions can be measured to show whether the desired impact has been achieved.

The way organizations makes decisions is dependent on the culture of that organization. Some organizations are hierarchical where decision are made at the top of the hierarchy. Other organizations involve getting consensus from a broad range of individuals. The second point strategic leaders should consider, is who should make the ultimate decision? In my experience, surprisingly, organizations often struggle with this question. It is often unclear who should make a decision and who should be involved in the decision. This lack of clarity can occur whether the decision relates to a large investment in big organizations or day to day smaller decisions. In some cases, leaders at the top of an organization may want to make all of the decisions and there is a lack of empowerment of people lower in the organization. In other cases, there is not a clear individual identified to take responsibility for a decision and an organization can be mired in endless rounds of discussion to get everyone to agree on a decision. In either of these extreme cases, decision making can be slow, either waiting for the senior leader to decide or trying to get large numbers of people to agree.

I would suggest that effective decision making results in a decision that is made at the right time and balances the need for rigor and speed. It may also involve input of experts, stakeholders and those accountable for implementing the decision. The way decisions are made are influenced by the culture of the organization or organizations involved but there should be clarity of roles and responsibilities of all those involved. Ultimately, there should be an individual that has accountability for making the decision and who owns the outcome.

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