How the way you go about decision making as a leader either cripples or enables your organisation
One of the most important roles a leader has is in being part of an effective decision making process. You’ll notice here that I’m not saying “making decisions” which is important but only a tiny part of where you can bring value as a leader. “Who should be making this decision?” and “How should we be making this decision?” are two of the most powerful questions you can ask as a leader.
Decisions are a particular type of feedback given to someone. When someone is looking for a decision they are looking for feedback on how to proceed. In the simplest case this is to continue on the path they are on having made some people aware of what they’re doing and ensuring that what they are doing is aligned with their work. In a more complex case it might involve changing what someone is doing, resolving a misalignment or choosing between options.
It’s worth thinking about what makes a good decision. One of the most common cognitive biases is called self-serving bias (or outcome bias). We tend to think that a good decision is one which turns out well. This allows us to take the credit when things go well but also blame bad luck when things go badly. It’s one of the barriers to learning as we forget the part leading up to the decision, which is the important bit. If I put $1000 on 00 on the roulette table and it comes up then that’s not a good decision — it’s a good outcome — and, if I’m not careful I might come away from that thinking that I should do more of this.
One of the primary duties of a leader in decision making is ensuring speed of decision. In Jeff Bezos’ 2016 board letter he notes that, as companies grow, they tend to make high quality decisions slowly and that for a company to remain relevant it needs to make high quality decisions at high velocity. To understand this let’s take a very common type of decision / feedback loop from the tech industry — code reviews.
When submitting a code review I am asking for a decision on whether to submit my code to the respository (as well as feedback on how to improve it). It might take me a couple of hours to write the code. Then it might take a day or two for a code review to come back to me (if I’m lucky). Then there may be rework. Then I have…