7 Useful Checks for Decision Making

Leaders make decisions. Good leaders delegate decisions down to the lowest level capable of making the decision. In doing this, the hard decisions that only the leader can make end up on their desk.

check-mark-hiMajor General Perry M. Smith, USAF Retired, lists 7 important checks to apply when preparing to make a final decision. How many of these do you use?

1. The sanity check. If a decision doesn’t make sense, it is the leader’s obligation to reject it and give further guidance to the staff on how to proceed.

2. The dignity check. Will the decision enhance the reputation and dignity of the organization and leadership, or will it undermine that reputation.

3. The systems check. Is there an internal consistency and coherency of all parts of the decision? Does the decision fit within the overall goals of the organization? Individual parts of the decision may make sense but do all parts fit together? Are there any unintended consequences for parts of the organization not directly affected by the decision (at least on the surface)?

4. The CNN check. How would the decision appear when written up in the media?

5. The safety check. This should take in the physical and psychological safety of employees and customers alike.

6. The strategy check. How much will the decision help or hurt the future of the organization?

7. The integrity check. This is the basic ethics issue. This concerns both the means and the ends of the decision, as well as the long-term reputation of the organization.

One of the ways leaders accomplish their goals is by making decisions. Effective leaders make quality decisions. A decision-making approach using these 7 checks will lead to better quality decisions. Try them out on your next big decision.

Leadership Lessons from Napoleon

Helping others to achieve their goals — that is the essence of leadership. A story in the December 1979 Bits and Pieces Magazine recounts how Napoleon did this:

napoleon1“Half of what he achieved,” said a historian of Napoleon, “was achieved by the power of words.”

Few Leaders in history have been able to stimulate men to action as Napoleon could. The secret of his leadership was simple: he first determined what his men wanted most, then did all in his power to help them get it.

Most of us take just the opposite tack: we first decide what we want, then try to persuade others to want the same thing as badly as we do. Napoleon knew better. He always keyed his plea to what his men wanted most at the moment.

When his army was half starved, he promised them food in exchange for victory. When they were homesick and thinking of deserting, he appealed to their pride by asking them how they wanted to return home: as conquering heroes or with their tails tucked between their legs? When they were fighting in Egypt under the Pyramids, he appealed to their sense of history: “Forty centuries are looking down on you,” he told them.

Do you help others get what they want first, or do you try to convince them that they want what you want?


10 Useful Short Phrases for Leaders

How many of these powerful, short phrases do you use?
1. I don’t know.
2. How am I wasting your time?
3. Give it to me straight, folks – what did I do wrong?
4. I made a mistake.
5. Perhaps it is time for me to take another look at my position on that issue.
6. Let’s try it.
7. This setback was my fault. I didn’t give you the support you needed.
8. Well done!
9. Your wise counsel has been very useful. Please forgive me for not using it this time.
10. What good books have you read lately?
Short, powerful phrases are an effective way to make a point, pay a compliment, ask for feedback, take the blame for failure, ease the tension level, etc. Do you have a phrase that has been effective for you as a leader?

Are You Driving the Culture in Your Organization?

Culture is the most powerful factor in an organization. Culture eats Vision for breakfast. Culture eats Strategy for lunch.

If you believe this then you, as a leader, ought to be driving the culture in your organization. Culture is a way of life cultivated over time through:

1. Behavior

2. Symbols

3. Systems

These three things are visual displays of what is valued in an organization. Culture is created as a result of the messages employees receive about how to behave in the organization. You, the leader, influence these messages with how you demonstrate the core values of the organization.

If you have a core value that says people are your most valuable asset and you don’t treat employees like they have value, then that will not become the organizational culture. People do what they see and they especially look at leaders. You can talk about valuing people and have it on posters all over the building, but if you don’t act that way, employees won’t develop that culture.

Symbols in organizations that influence behavior include: how time is spent, how money is allocated, office space (who gets the best offices), who gets promoted and favored, and how communication works. All of these must be congruent with organizational values.

Systems such as what gets measured, what gets reported, reward system, and budgeting and goal setting are also critical. I once worked in an organization that had a value of collaboration and the leadership talked collaboration all the time. However, the compensation system was designed to reward individual effort and not collaboration. So, how well do you think people collaborated with each other?

Do you remember the news story about the nuclear missile operators at Minot AFB that were fired for cheating on proficiency exams? Analysis of the incident said Minot senior leaders failed to foster a “culture of accountability.” One document said, “Group testing was viewed as taking care of each other. Missileers felt pressure to score 100 percent on every test.

The Air Force Core Values are: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in all That We Do. So, how do you think leaders in that unit demonstrated these values? The Air Force has a good vision of where they want to go and strategy to get there. In the case of Minot AFB, the organizational culture was not congruent with Air Force Core Values and kept the unit from succeeding.

So, how do you develop a culture consistent with your core values? Employees must understand the values and what they look like being lived out in the organization. The best way to do this is have leaders throughout the organization demonstrating the values by their actions everyday. Also important is to make sure symbols and systems reflect the values.

What would the ideal culture in your organization look like? How would that match your core values? What behaviors, symbols and systems could you implement to bring that culture into being?

Leaders know the way, go the way and show the way.