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A Deeper Explanation

All the factors described previously certainly make it difficult to manage conflict and consensus effectively. The core contention of this book, however, is that many leaders fail to make and implement decisions successfully for a more fundamental reason—that is, they tend to focus first and foremost on finding the “right” solution when a problem arises rather than stepping back to determine the “right” process that should be employed to make the decision. They fixate on the question “What decision should I make?” rather than asking “How should I go about making the decision?” Answering this “how” question correctly often has a profound impact on a leader’s decision-making effectiveness. It enables leaders to create the conditions and mechanisms that will lead to healthy debate and dissent as well as a comprehensive and enduring consensus.

Naturally, leaders also must address the content of critical high-stakes decisions, not simply the processes of deliberation and analysis. They have to take a stand on the issues, and they must make difficult trade-offs in many cases. Moreover, creating and leading an effective decision-making process does not guarantee a successful choice and smooth implementation. However, developing and managing a high-quality decision-making process does greatly enhance the probability of successful choices and results.59

Throughout this book, I argue that leaders should stay attuned constantly to the social, emotional, and political processes of decision. However, they need to do more than this. They must not simply react passively to the personality clashes and backroom maneuvering that emerges during a decision-making process. Instead, they should actively shape and influence the conditions under which people will interact and deliberate. They must make choices about the type of process that they want to employ and the roles that they want various people to play, as Alan Mulally has done at Ford. In short, leaders must “decide how to decide” as they confront complex and ambiguous situations, rather than fixating solely on the intellectual challenge of finding the optimal solution to the organization’s perplexing problems. With this broad theme in mind, let’s begin to tackle the marvelous challenge of discovering how leaders can cultivate “diversity in counsel, unity in command.”

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