A Leader’s Guide to Deciding

A good piece by Steven Sinofsky on decision making and the critical role that it plays in an executive’s job:

A Leader’s Guide to Deciding: What, When and How to Decide

In this post, Steven tries to put some structure on striking the right balance somewhere in between the two extreme ends of the decision making spectrum: being in the center of a command-and-control scheme and fully delegating any decision.

He argues that decision making gets complicated as the organization scale primarily due the number of stakeholders that are being affected by the decision. Based on his experience, typical responsibility assigning schemes (RACI and the likes) tend to slow things down and push responsibility around.

He identifies 3 key pieces to solving the challenge:

  1. “The most important thing an executive must do is keep the output and velocity of the team at the highest level, and focused on doing the right things” – if you understand that this is your #1 job as an executive, you will spend your time, on the right things.
  2. “The real challenge is in trying to define decisions, isolate important ones, and then figure out the stakeholders for that one instance” (as opposed to finding the solution.
  3. Being clear, up front, first of all with yourself, but then with everyone else involved on the role that you intend to play in the project:
    • Initiator (10% of time). Kicking off new projects.
    • Connector (60% of time). Connecting people to others so the work gets better.
    • Amplifier (10% of time). Amplifying the things that are working well or not so there is awareness of success and learning.
    • Editor (20% of time) Fixing or changing things while they are being done.

For each of those roles, he provides a few examples, the communication tools you should use, the granularity of the guidance you should provide, the time you should spend playing this role and the necessary mindset to drive an effective outcome.

As a final note, Steven touches on the exception to the rule: “Don’t ever be worried about deciding in the most top-down, non-empowered, toe-stepping manner when facing a true crisis. That’s what leadership is all about”. He ties this advice to Ben Horowitz’s distinction between a “wartime” and “peacetime” CEO, but in my mind, it goes deeper than that. What Steven is describing here, in his own words, are the “complex” and “chaotic” pieces of the Cynefin Model which I’ve covered at length here. It all connects in the end…


A Leader’s Guide to Deciding

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