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Few leaders or managers would admit that they run their organisations, teams or groups with little respect or regard for their followers' dignity and needs. Yet disrespect is what they convey through some of their everyday practices.
Rather than ensuring others' needs for clarity and consistency are met, many apply decision-making models which are vague, improvisational or arbitrary. Some cling to centralised decision-making and an uncompromising chain of command at odds with stated intentions for collaboration, openness, trust, the encouragement of diversity, teamwork and creativity. Others vary their decision-making practices according to mood or whim: any decision-making model from a wide range may be applied randomly and without notice. Many untested assumptions are made.
It is not yet entirely common for people to openly declare what are their leadership, management and decision-making styles and models - the values, principles and procedures on which they will lead, manage and make decisions. "Keeping people guessing" and "Playing it close to the chest" in these areas is still common, and often so because they have yet to clarify these issues for themselves. Lacking a clear foundation, they may vacillate between one set of behaviours and another, moving unannounced and arbitrarily between autocratic and democratic polar extremes.
Like problem-solving and conflict resolution, decision-making is one of those activities managers and leaders engage in hundreds of times daily, "making up the rules" on the way, without carefully-planned strategy and monitoring to make sure processes are fit for purpose. Wherever those improvisational practices affect others, there are significant limitations.
People affected become anxious and confused, overly-dependent, incapacitated, frustrated or angry. They may struggle to make decisions which they later find were never theirs to make. Time is wasted as potential initiatives are deferred or avoided and responsibilities left for others. Conflict is created when people act out of accord with whatever unexpressed expectations were held by those with greater authority. Efficiency falls off.
Collective (group and team) decision-making models are generally similar. Without clear guidelines they tend to apply one or a combination of four models:
- Pseudo-Consensus: We hope decisions will somehow emerge from informality in an untested consensus. Participants may "fall over backwards" to avoid being seen as authoritarian. What is meant by "consensus" and useful guidelines for making it work are never determined.
- Messy Democracy: The group oscillates between scant attention and strict attention to usually-assumed procedural rules, taking "simple majority" votes in the event of differences and discord.
- Autocracy: The leader, claiming or even believing s/he is applying consensus or a consultative approach, makes "consensus noises" then effectively decides, correctly assuming s/he will not be seriously challenged. This may or may not involve manipulation and bullying.
- Oppressive Autocracy: Assumptions that the leader is applying collaborative, participative approaches are proved unsafe as s/he takes full responsibility for decision-making, without notice.
Although very common, these approaches (and their many variations) are often unfit for purpose, as they limit participation and potential. Simple improvements are easily made.
Our mentoring processes, publications and other services can help you:
- Determine your current range of decision-making processes and their appropriateness for your organisational culture and personal intentions
- Design, trial, document and involve others in a continuum of decision-making models appropriate for certain issues and desired outcomes
- Apply them consistently, according to clear criteria.
- Conserve time (yours and others') and lessen anxiety (yours and others'), through greater clarity about decision-making roles, processes and involvement.
Our approach to this work depends very much on what you can tell us about your needs, but will almost certainly involve helping you to make some commonsense ideas common practice. You may select and talk with a mentor now, or after completing a self-assessment.
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