Leaders and decision making. When times get tough, those two terms become synonymous. We depend on our leaders to be our decision makers. Furthermore, leaders are often defined, when all is said and done, by the decisions they have made. But who do our leaders depend on to help make those tough decisions?
“Leadership is a team sport,” shared Dr. Joshua Weiss, Bay Path’s Director of the MS in Leadership and Negotiation. “We may talk about leadership in terms of an individual, but if you speak to truly effective leaders they often talk about the key to their success being their team. This team is made up of people with different levels of knowledge and expertise than them.” While it’s difficult for a leader to be a subject matter expert in all things – especially in broad realms such as politics -- it is possible for a leader to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and to build a team around them that fills in the gaps. “The most effective leaders check their ego at the door and say I don’t know nearly enough about X or Y to make the best decision,” Weiss shared. “They then ask, who can I surround myself with that will help me make the best decisions possible? They recognize the limits of their knowledge and that those around them are the experts and seek their counsel.”
So, given that teams are key to effective leadership, what stands in the way of great decision making? There are many factors to consider. Some of the most prominent challenges are:
- Leaders feel that have to make every decision themselves;
- They may rely heavily on past experiences, taking a similar action in a different situation, and expecting a similar result;
- They may believe the situation is binary, only allowing for a “this or that” solution; and
- Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of ego.
“Leaders have to be confident in their convictions, which is often what got them where they are. However, they cannot be over-confident or cocky. There is an important distinction between the two and it is a fine-line leaders simply cannot afford to cross.” Weiss stated. “When you think you know more than anyone else, or always need to be the smartest person in the room, you’re going to struggle in the long term and are very unlikely to make the best decisions possible.”
Many historically great leaders have tackled this issue head on, purposefully designating people to play the role of naysayer or questioner. “Group Think is a real issue, where people feel pressure to agree due to the authority level of the decision maker,” Weiss said. “The key to success is to set up people in the roles of saying no or being the questioner, in advance, before the need arises. Then, when it is time to constructively challenge a decision, it can be done in a healthy way because everyone knows it is their job to do so.”
Examples of leaders who have excelled at surrounding themselves with a great team to aid in decision making can be found everywhere you look. They are in politics, such as President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis; in business, with Walt Disney, who has famously credited some of his most important films to his team; to humanitarianism, with Nelson Mandela who said, "I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.”