Building a Strong Foundation for Exceptional Decision Making

In this article you will learn:

  • What three key skill sets every executive or manager must master.
  • The four disciplines that make up the decision-making family.
  • And, how to focus your efforts on those disciplines that offer the greatest return on investment.

I work with managers, executives, and their organizations on all sorts of issues related to performance.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with good managers and bad. I have seen the efforts of intelligent people languish due to a failure to apply the appropriate methods for the situation.

Managers must master three broad skill sets in order to be successful:

  • Leadership and Mentoring
  • Communication
  • Analysis and Critical Thinking

The first skill set is leadership/mentoring. Managers must be able to motivate, influence, and empower. They must be at ease with delegating to others and evaluating their performance.

The second major skill set successful managers must master is communication. They must be able to get craft messages for employees, customers, and other stakeholders. Managers must also be able to understand the messages being communicated by their bosses, subordinates, and the markets they serve.

The final head of this triumvirate of executive skills is analysis and critical thinking. This skill set comes into play during conflict resolution, strategy design, negotiation, and penetrating new markets.

These skill sets obviously overlap and interrelate. Becoming an executive is not as simple as learning to play these three instruments. It is more like conducting a symphony of woodwinds, brass, and strings: understanding the contributions of each section, and knowing when to add more of one section or to subdue another to elicit the desired effect.

Notice that decision making, per se, is not one of the fundamental managerial skill sets.

In fact, the number one mistake that people make when confronted with a decision is jumping right into the fray without evaluating the situation first. You might say that you always carefully consider what action is required. But, that’s actually starting at Step 2. The first step is to ask yourself what type of action is required.

Issues that people usually consider to be decision-making can actually be divided into four major categories: problem solving, decision-making, planning, and innovating.

These categories comprise the analysis and critical thinking skill set mentioned above. Everyone is confronted with each of these types of issues from time to time. Most people spend the most time on problem solving, followed by decision-making and then planning. Few people actually allocate any time to innovating.

However, this order is exactly the opposite of how you should prioritize your time for greatest benefit. Innovation provides the greatest return on investment, usually far beyond the commitment of resources. Planning also yields great returns, but those returns tend to be more commensurate with the effort invested in the planning process. Decision-making can generate modest returns or simply stave of losses.

But, problem solving never creates positive returns. The best one can hope to achieve through problem solving is to stop the bleeding. By the time you find yourself in a problem-solving situation, you are already experiencing losses. Lost resources may include money, time, repute, trust, morale, customers, vendors, employees, friends, family, or health.

Our next lesson will investigate these four disciplines further and develop tactics whereby you can discern which discipline applies and how to begin each process.

Right now, while you’re still thinking about it”

Write down two specific skills for each management skill set that are personal strengths of yours. Then write down two specific skills in each skill set that are weaknesses. It is important to take inventory of your strengths as well as your weaknesses. However, be careful about focusing excessive amounts of resources on remediation. True success comes from exploiting your strengths, not ameliorating weaknesses.

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