Thursday, September 24, 2009

How Leaders Make eXtraordinary Decisions

Decisionpe03513jpg If you had all the time and money in the world to make your decisions, do you think you could make accurate decisions? Of course. But that’s the problem with, isn’t it? You don’t have all the time or money in the world to make decisions. Research says that when you decide how to address any issue, you are subconsciously weighing a trade-off between effort and accuracy. (1) This trade-off between effort and accuracy leads to what Professor Hammond and his colleagues call, “the hidden traps in decision-making.” (2) Like sand traps to a golfer, these decision traps can bog you down and keep you from achieving your goal – an excellent decision.

Here's how you can use the eXpansive Leadership Method (XLM) to avoid these traps and make extraordinary decisions in the face of perplexing problems.

The process begins by framing your challenges with four fundamental questions seen below:

The precursor to eXtraordinary decisions is eXpansive thinking.


Management guru Peter Drucker writes that making difficult decisions in the face of ambiguous circumstances is critical for leadership success. Therefore, when your challenges become more difficult, ambiguous or complex, I encourage you to use the XLM as a guide for asking deeper questions. Listed below are several questions, categorized by the leadership style, which can improve your decisions when confronting these confounding challenges.

1. VISIONARY QUESTIONS -- begin by asking, "What would be an eXtraordinary outcome?" Visionary thinking invites contemplation of a broad perspective, strategic implications, and long-term considerations. When dealing with a difficult challenge, probe deeper by answering visionary questions, such as…

How does this challenge relate to the organization’s direction?

Is this a problem worth investing resources to solve?

What might be the downstream negative and positive consequences?

When do I really need to decide?

Shouldn’t I sleep on it?

Imagine that I am looking back on this decision from the future, and it has turned out poorly, what went wrong?

What might I be thinking when I'm sitting in a rocking chair reflecting on this issue during retirement?

Am I too invested in the status quo?

How is my ego affected by this?

2. RATIONAL QUESTIONS – explore how we know what we know. We therefore ask, "What are the facts and expectations of those affected?" Rational thinking helps us monitor our environment and be in touch with the facts. In deciding how to address a complex challenge, this means being aware of the external and internal context of our decision by asking...

Do I have the correct information (quality and quantity) to decide?

What is my backup plan?

What assumptions am I making?

How will I monitor the implementation of this decision?

What transparent process should I use?

3. EMPOWERING QUESTIONS -- concerns themselves with the moral code and values we use. We begin by asking, "What's the right thing to do, especially for others?" This is an empowering question because it focuses our attention on serving those whom we lead. When we’re dealing with thorny issues, consider asking…

If everyone in this organization had to do exactly what I am contemplating doing, what type of organization would we have?

What is the right thing to do for the greatest number of people without violating individual rights?

What is the most honest and fair thing to do?

Is what I am deciding to do consistent with who I aspire to be?

4. COMMANDING QUESTIONS -- remind us that human beings have free will and therefore are responsible for their actions. It leads us to the question, “What are the consequences of our options?" This commanding question compels us to refuse victim thinking and accept responsibility for our choices. Eventually you must choose what to do or not to do. (That is the question!) Here are a few more questions that will help you think expansively as you access your free will responsibly:

Have I solicited the opinions of those with whom I often disagree?

How risky are my alternatives?

Can I test the alternatives on a small scale before I decide?

What are my best options based on the answers to all of these questions?

Peter Drucker reminds us that while leadership used to be about having answers, it is now about asking questions. The best approach to meeting daunting challenges and solving perplexing problems is therefore, to use a consistent methodology that helps you ask expansive questions. This is exactly what the XLM does. It doesn’t tell you what to do, it frames the conversation with questions.

How do you make decisions?

Keep eXpanding,

P.S. The web-based eXpansive Leadership Method (XLM) assessment measures 4 fundamental leadership styles, 16 core competencies, and 8 essential leadership skills. Within minutes of completing your assessment (which takes less than 20 minutes to fill out), you can download your highly personalized profile - a comprehensive, 21 + page report and customized action plan in PDF format. Go to to learn more.

1. John W. Payne, James R. Bettman, and, Eric J. Johnson, The Adaptive Decision Maker, Cambridge University Press, New York, New York, 1993, page 2.

2. John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, and Howard Raiffa; The Hidden Traps in Decision-Making, Harvard Business Review, January 2006, pages 118 -- 126.

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