Monthly Archives: April 2011

Executive Decision vs. Group Decision

Ask Mary ~

When should a leader make unilateral/executive decisions in the interest of efficiency vs. using a group decision-making process with authentic buy-in and respected, credible results?

Answer ~

The only way to answer this briefly is to make a broad assertion, so here it is: Good judgment is the sine qua non of good leadership. And deciding when to make an executive decision vs. when to initiate a group decision-making process is a perfect example. This also illustrates the point that leadership is situational; there are no formulas. A leader must consider the circumstances, timing, and the decision-process alternatives in every situation, weigh the costs vs. benefits of the various alternatives, make a decision on how to make the decision, and then take action. That’s where the good judgment comes in. Both types of decision-making are useful and appropriate methodologies. (By the way, these are not the only techniques for making decisions, but they do represent two very different approaches.) Sometimes a leader has days, weeks, or even months to make a decision, sometimes only minutes or possibly just seconds. Some issues are more complex and important than others, and worth a greater investment of resources. Some issues are better served by a group process; some aren’t. The key is knowing when to use which decision-making method.

Food for Thought ~

“Wisdom is knowing what to do next. Skill is knowing how to do it. Virtue is doing it.”
David Starr Jordan (1851 – 1931)
Educator, Ichthyologist, Peace Activist, President of Indiana University and the first President of Stanford University


I received a suggestion last week from an esteemed reader who recommended that I take questions on leadership issues and respond to them in my Minutes. What a great idea! It was serendipitous, as I was just musing on the very question of how to engage more interaction with my readers. I do not always have time to respond to every email message personally, but I do very much appreciate the feedback I receive.

Food for Thought ~

This provides a good opportunity for me to address something I surely believe ~ that through collaboration we are able to create much better solutions, plans, and outcomes than we can individually. Collective wisdom is far better than most individual efforts, with geniuses perhaps the exception to the rule. I have seen time and again the amazing improvement in the quality of a group’s effort over that of an individual, even a very smart and talented one. Yes, it takes longer and requires more management and leadership skills, but the superior results are well worth the effort.

Question of the day ~

Are you good at seeking input and collaboration? Do you reach out to appropriate and interested others to help craft and improve the best possible ideas and solutions?

Another Leadership Paradox

One of my thoughtful readers replied to last week’s Minute with the keen observation that leaders need to be humble enough to be a learner and yet confident enough to be a decision-maker. Leaders need to be able to hear what employees (and others) honestly think and feel while contemporaneously maintaining their overall responsibility for the company. It’s a great insight into another one of the seemingly paradoxical aspects of being a leader.

Food for Thought ~

This underscores the point from last week that leaders need to have exceptional EQ (Emotional Intelligence.) It takes a lot of maturity and poise to balance the multiple facets of a leadership position, and this is one of the most challenging. Kudos to those of you who have mastered this aspect of leadership. And kudos as well to those who are working on it!

Question of the day ~

How are your skills at being humble enough to be a listener and learner while at the same time maintaining an appropriate perspective on your responsibility as a leader, as well as managing your own emotional response?

Leader as Learner, Teacher, Coach

One of the implications of the servant leader concept is that the old model of “command and control” leadership is largely passe, except for special situations. Today’s leaders are not the same breed that dominated well into the 20th century. Current and future leaders must primarily be learners, teachers and coaches.

Food for Thought ~

The skills needed to be a learner, teacher and coach are commonly called “people skills” or Emotional Intelligence (EQ) as popularized by Daniel Goleman. As leaders, we first need to effectively manage ourselves, and secondarily, our relationships. Technical knowledge and abilities are often the entry fee, but it’s personal awareness and people skills that fuel the leadership trajectory.

Question of the day ~

How would you rate your skills as a teacher and coach? A perhaps more subtle assessment is required regarding our capacities for personal and interpersonal learning. How do you fare on that scale? (If we find that we are defensive when we receive criticism, we may be limiting our learning.)