Leadership in Action – 3 Styles of Decision Making

There are two fatal flaws in coaching others into better performance:
• Overuse of Command (micro-managing)
• Overuse of Consensus

Effective leaders recognize that both Command and Consensus have their place, and they are skilled at knowing when to use which style of coaching, in order to Energize Action. There are two relevant criteria when making the decision on which style to use: the Risk associated with the performance, as well as the Time frame.

Risk deals with how critical the situation is. The more the issue is core to the strategy of the organization, the higher the risk involved in making the decision. As risk increases, leaders become more directive. Just as important, as the risk decreases, effective leaders move towards a consensus approach.

Time frame also impacts the choice of coaching style. The shorter the time frame, the more directive the leader tends to be. As the time frame extends out, effective leaders move towards a consensus approach.

Taken together, high risk/short time frame issues do require a command approach. The most common of these are safety issues, where the time frame is very short, as an injury may occur in the next few moments, and the risk is high due to the chance of injury. When someone’s hand is about to be severed in a machine, it is not the time to set up a committee and discuss the right approach. Effective leaders take charge and take action, in terms of what needs to be done when and why. “Get your hand out of the machine, now, before you lose it!”

The use of command requires that respect and trust are already part of the relationship. A common way to look at the impact of trust on using command is the emotional bank account. With this metaphor, we think about our relationships with others as having a balance, like a bank account. When our balance is positive, we have invested in positive emotional experiences with the other person. When our balance is negative, we have too many negative emotional experiences with this person. Using participative methods of leadership demonstrates respect that builds trust and creates a positive balance. Always using command creates a negative balance and creates the potential, for when the situation is high risk and low time frame, that the command will not be followed.

Consensus decisions are appropriate when the risk is low and the time frame of the decisions is longer, such as, what color we paint the cafeteria. A decision like this is not strategic, and building a consensus among the stakeholders is a useful exercise.

Most of our decision-making will fall in the middle range, with medium risk with a medium time frame. Here effective leaders use the third style, that of Consultative. In the Consultative approach, leaders seek input from key stakeholders and then make an informed decision. Effective leaders are skilled at communicating the decision in a way that not only is clear on the direction, but also is also clear on how the stakeholder’s participation impacts the decision. This creates a collective belief of being heard.

Effective leaders can Energize Action by using the appropriate coaching style – Consensus, Consultative or Command depending on the time frame and risk associated with the current situation.