Effective Leaders Decide About Deciding

Here is an excerpt from an article by   for the MIT Sloan Management Review. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

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Every leader should design and communicate how they want to make decisions. Making it clear what you care about, what you need to know about, and what you’re tasking others to move on will help minimize confusion about who should be making which decisions. It also helps clarify when you as the leader can be kept out of a decision, when you should be pulled in, and how requests for your feedback should be communicated.

I’ve learned this the hard way. Because I’m passionate about multiple facets of my company, my executives were getting confused at times about why I was inserting myself into a conversation. Sometimes, it was simply my excitement, and other times, it was from a place of concern. Sometimes, I didn’t see how their execution of a strategy lined up with what I saw in my mind’s eye. This made my executives blurry about what they had the power to act on and when they needed to loop me in — in part because I wasn’t clear on those things myself. Decisions would stall. Frustrations would run high. 

Convoluted decision-making processes waste time. Respondents to a 2018 McKinsey survey, for instance, said they spent 37% of their time making decisions, on average — and they estimated that more than half that time was spent ineffectively. On the other hand, delegating decisions and trusting the people you’ve handed them to isn’t always easy.

But we’re fans of models and visual representations of processes at Duarte Inc., and after talking through the problem and the confusion, the executive team cocreated a new model. In this two-by-two matrix, decisions are categorized into four boxes along axes representing how urgent the decision is and how high or low the stakes are. Each box has a correlating expectation about whether I should be involved, ranging from “Decide without me” and “Inform on progress” to “Propose for approval” and “Escalate immediately.” (See “Help Your Team Make Faster Decisions.”)

Once we landed on the framework, each executive populated a matrix for their own business unit. They piled up all the topics for decisions that needed to be made regularly into the four quadrants. We talked through the choices, and they then had a clear idea of when and to what extent I should (or wanted to) be involved. Each leader could cascade this model as far into their organization as they chose to.

Yes, there are other models about how leaders and managers communicate decisions, like RACI (an acronym for “responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed”), but those are for decisions at the project level, not the executive table. Once we aligned around this model, it became clearer to all of us what I should let go of — while also giving me permission to poke my head in if something was derailing that they thought they had handled.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

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