10 Practical Ways to Make Better Decisions
Weak leaders silence dissent; wise invite it.
Peter Drucker said, “If you have quick consensus on an important matter, don’t make the decision.”
All important decisions are made better by constructive dissent.
Leaders with authority and power are responsible to invite, explore, honor, and reward constructive dissent.
10 ways to make better decisions with constructive dissent:
- Exercise transparency that eliminates politics and game-playing. Hidden agendas are manipulation, not constructive dissent.
- Give a trusted colleague permission to challenge you. Karin Hurt, co-author of Winning Well, told me she is so passionate she could drive the bus off a cliff. She had a team member who had permission to say, “I’m concerned about the bus.”
- Practice flexibility that manifests as willingness to change your mind. Dissent is unimaginable when leaders don’t change their minds.
- Invite teams to poke holes in decisions. “We aren’t moving forward until we can poke holes in this decision.” David Dye, co-author of Winning Well.
- Embrace a bold commitment to listen to ideas that come from anywhere. Be willing to not know.
- Maintain openness when you think you know. “What don’t we know?”
- Respect individuals regardless of position. Snobbery eliminates constructive dissent and turns everyone into butt kissers and brown nosers.
- Enjoy diversity.
- Engage people early in the process where dissent isn’t life or death.
- Praise and reward constructive dissent.
Bonus: Keep asking, “What do you think?”
Note: This post isn’t written in praise of nasty contrarians who disagree for the fun of it.
How might leaders invite and navigate constructive dissent?
Solid post, Dan — thanks #2 and #4 are practices we use all the time — once we have set a goal, we don’t take our focus off of it, however we are wide open as to how to get there, a practice we call mapping the gap.
Thanks Mark. The approach of flexibility on the how to get there is essential for success. Great insight. Adapt as you go.
Dan, I so enjoyed our conversation on this important topic yesterday. I love the list you can up with. I think #10 is so vital… we get more of the behaviors we encourage.. particularly important when the behaviors can feel risky.
Thanks Karin. It was great meeting you after all the online and phone conversations. I think the way leaders respond to constructive dissent determines what happens the next time an important decision is made.
It takes real strength to invite the dissent that makes a decision better. Thanks for sharing Dan!
Thanks David. It was great meeting you yesterday. I think the shift in mindset is important. Constructive dissent is your friend, not your enemy.
It is good to be inclusive in decisions. It is not good to consider all inputs as equally valid. That weakens decisions to somewhere between the best and the worst inputs, which by definition is usually less than the best.
Good leaders are stewards of their organizations, and encourage stewardship as a way of life. That means they do what is best for their organizations. There is great merit in considering differing points of view and seeking counsel, but leaders cannot shirk their duties by seeking compromise and consensus if they know it won’t be good for the organization.
I lived through the chaos and political strife of an organization whose newly arrived CEO hid behind his politicized executive team and didn’t have the courage to do what was right because he could be blamed by the board if things went wrong. He had written 2 books on continuous improvement and group involvement, knew all the Japanese buzzwords, but lacked personal integrity and moral fortitude. His principal concern was prolonging his own considerable paycheck and public image. The company lost its way in less than a year and failed, putting many out of work and losing several hundred million $.
So…I agree with distributed decision making – if it is done by people who care about the good of the organization, its people, and those who profit by its goods and services. If not, empowerment becomes a sham of manipulation.
I understand your hesitation and suspicion of empowerment. My organization also values input but less often incorporates it, with the feeling that the decision is not going to change. I think, however, that each individual is responsible for their own behavior, so with my team when I seek input I take it all, and consider it all. I am apolitical to a fault, I hide nothing even when I probably should. Rather than diluting the decision, as you mention, a leader should have valid rebuttals to any suggestions that would weaken the decision or is untenable due to conditions out of your control.
I agree, Chris. It is also important that when a leader accepts input from others, he/she recognizes them for their inputs, and accepts blame along with the person making the suggestion if it doesn’t work as planned. Buying into a decision means exactly that – being loyal to the team’s decision, no matter if you are the boss or not. It means having skin in the game, sometimes literally.
Thanks Marc. Your last paragraph is essential. Constructive dissent requires a commitment to the best interest of others and the organization. Self-serving dissent isn’t constructive. Very powerful.
One of many things I like about your posts, Dan, is that you introduce me to phrases, ones that enhance the meaning / intent of the more commonly used single word. In this post, there are ‘constructive dissent’ and the book title, ‘Winning Well’.
While dissent does not always have to be negative, too often that’s the interpretation of not the intent of the word’s use. Constructive dissent however leaves no doubt that the dissent has an expected, positive purpose – to improve decisions and outcomes.
Same with ‘Winning Well!’ How frequently do we hear or read about winning at any cost? How often are we tempted ourselves to obsess about winning no matter what? Examples abound in the world of sports and in politics… (‘I’ll vote for your bill – on a topic I’ve campaigned against – if you’ll vote for mine.’) ‘Winning Well’ to me at least leaves no doubt: Winning the right way, on the merits of the ideas and efforts, not by any means necessary – regardless of impact on others. Sadly, politics comes to my mind with regard to ‘negative’ winning…
Thanks John. Another insightful comment. Love how you brought winning well together with constructive dissent. Brilliant.
“Positive purpose.” You hit the core of what makes constructive dissent constructive.
Thanks for the great post, will definitely be referring others too it. I’ve come to re-think decision making more as a way to get advice and buy in from the team, and less as an exercise in selling/advocating for what I think is the right direction. As a result, not only do I believe that we’re making better decisions more quickly, but we’ve also become much more aligned as a team over the past several months, in a measurable way.
Why can’t we just talk and negotiate to work things through?