Decision-making is indeed an art form rather than a science. We can study management techniques, we can read the latest tomes on leadership and strategic planning, yet nothing is more personal, more a fingerprint of our management style than how we make decisions.
In his book Management in the White House: An Intimate Study of the Presidency, Richard Tanner Johnson provides us firsthand insight into the vastly different decision-making styles of several of our presidents.
According to Johnson, “Truman’s machinery was geared as an aggressive apparatus for acquiring and conveying information to the top; in contrast, Eisenhower arrayed his staff machinery like a shield. Truman wanted alternatives to choose from; Eisenhower wanted recommendations to ratify.”
Johnson saw FDR’s and JFK’s decision-making styles similar in that both felt that disharmony of opinions was a necessary ingredient in finding the best course of action. As Johnson put it, these two presidents “had a high tolerance of interpersonal conflict.” Johnson said, “Both immersed themselves in the information process and derived satisfaction from reaching down and shaping the options – not just selecting from among those presented to them.”
Obviously, no decision-making style is right while another is wrong. But being aware of the decision-making style you most often employ and knowing how that particular style is affecting the decisions you make can make you a better manager.
Start by taking the time to pay attention. For the next few days, notice how you make decisions, both big and small. What processes or steps do you go through? Look for a pattern.
It’s no different than trying to improve your golf or tennis game. To do so, it’s necessary to be aware of how you’re currently swinging your club or racket. Do you see your decision-making patterns emerging? Are you a Truman or more like an Eisenhower or JFK?
Find your style and make it work for you.
However, any decision, no matter what the decision-style, is only as good as the information. As they say, garbage in, garbage out.
Quality of information and attention to details should be a mandate for every one on your management team. The better the information available, the easier a decision will be to make.
U.S. Navy Admiral Arthur W. Radford believes good information can all but eliminate the need for the decision-making process. According to Radford, “A decision is the action an executive must take when he has information so incomplete that the answer does not suggest itself.”
Your business is only as good as the decisions you make. Isn’t it worth the effort to do everything you can to ensure those decisions are the best they can be?
Denise Lloyd, Publisher