One of the obligations of leadership is decisions.
Decision making (decision from Latin decidere “to decide, determine,” literally “to cut off,” from de- “off” and caedere “to cut”) can be regarded as the mental processes resulting in the selection of a course of action. Wikipedia.
While a good leader delegates and empowers others to make decisions about issues within their own function or skill set, there are many times in which the CEO (who is usually the only executive with a full “horizontal” view and cross-functional understanding of an issue), must decide. There are many types of decisions, ranging from simple Yes or No (hopefully followed by a clear explanation) to guidance as to what other information might be required before a decision can take place.
I am not going to talk about the decision process per se, but instead I am focusing on the “mindset” of the CEO or leader tasked with a decision.
There are two little words, “make” and “take”, that are often used interchangeably when talking about decisions. There is “make the decision”, and there is “take the decision”. The CEO can say; “I will make the decision” or she can say, “I will take the decision”. They may sound the same, but I believe there is a very powerful difference between the two, and it lies in the area of accountability and feeling personally responsible; owning the decision.
We have lived through an era over the past two decades characterised by the term “charismatic” leadership, in which the CEO is seen as a “rock star” personality more than the head of a business. Infallible often comes to mind. Some even defined it as the era of the “teflon” executive, where only the good stuff sticks! Only recently have we seen CEOs finally be held accountable for actions and activities “on their watch”.
In those wild times of the 80s and 90s, heads would roll among the second and third tier executive ranks when earnings fell off target, but the CEO would add another zero to his pay packet. Much of this unaccountable behaviour was fuelled by 20 year global economic boom cycle where “all boats float on a high tide”.
Today we are in an unprecedented global economic crisis, especially in the developed nations. Those who believe this is just another cycle (like all the previous), and if we sit tight the good times of growth and easy access to capital will return, are not facing the facts. Never before has the largest GDP economy on the planet been well over 100% in debt, and rising. Never before has over 65% of the US GDP been used to pay for the cost of government. Never before has technology and connectivity disrupted so many traditional Blue Chip industries and created new players and new business models. Never before have the developing nations been as powerful and economically bold (Brazil has both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics). Africa is now seen as the growth continent for many industries and companies.
But back to decisions. I view the two mindsets of those tasked with a big decision as follows. When a CEO makes a decision, they tend to come from a mindset of “It is my job to make the decision, but you guys did all the analyses and came up with the options, so you’re responsible from now on. I did my job, I made the decision, now you do yours.” To me this feel a lot more like abdication than leadership.
On the other hand, when a CEO or leader “takes the decision”, they are coming from a mindset of accountability, personal ownership and commitment to see the decision through, or see the errors and make a new decision. Blaming and finger pointing are replaced by “What can I do to make this work?”. If you think it’s not the CEO’s job to be so involved, then you definitely belong in the other camp. If the CEO doesn’t take it seriously, who else will?
Next time you are coming up to a decision, decide ahead of time if you are going to “make the decision” or “take the decision”. You will see things a lot differently going in.
Tight Lines . . .
John R Childress