AFTER A RATHER severe ice storm, the Fire Chief came to my office with a handful of paperwork. He explained that during the storm, the Fire Departments realized they did not have enough chain saws to get all the fallen trees cut up and moved out of the roadways to ensure emergency equipment could continue to be available to our citizens. He knew he should have gotten a Purchase Order prior to obtaining the chain saws, extra blades and small engine oil but he just wanted to get his crews out doing what was necessary to open up the roadways. Therefore, he went to a hardware store where the County had an account and just charged them to that account. I took the paperwork and told him I would sort through it and prepare the necessary paperwork to get the approval from the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners and that he should not worry. He needed to make a decision for the good of the people and my job was now to support his decision.
The Fire Chief demonstrated a very important leadership trait. Every leader will be faced with situations and problems that require the leader to react. As a leader, we must learn to make sound and timely decisions.
So, if you are going to be an exceptional leader, you must be prepared to make decisions. That means you have to develop the skills that are necessary to prepare you for that moment of truth when the chips are down and you must rally your team to success. Here are some things you can do to help you develop the kind of decision making skills that lead to success.
Develop a logical and orderly thought process. Every process consists of a first step, a last step, and many steps in between. Therefore, being able to logically outline each step that must be accomplished to obtain the final goal will be invaluable in developing a plan to fulfill the goal. This skill is so important to the decision making process that you should practice outlining objectives for different and difficult situations and preparing step by step solutions just to sharpen this skill. The time spent in these drills will pay dividends.
When time and the situation permits, plan for every possible event that can reasonably be foreseen. Clearly define the final objective and goals that must be accomplished to consider the project completed successfully. With the goal in mine, use the above process to outline each step that must be accomplished to meet the goal. Once you know the steps you need to take to get to your goal, then you can evaluate the obstacles that may arise that can hinder your forward process. In this manner, you will be prepared to overcome each obstacle. You cannot over plan. But be aware of a pitfall that can come with the planning of a project and that is do not get so bogged down in the planning process that you never move forward.
Encourage your team to make plans at the same time you do if time is available. In this manner, your first meeting to begin the process of finalizing the plan will be more productive since the team is already prepared to discuss their ideas.
Consider the advice and suggestions of your team members whenever possible before making the final decisions. Since it will normally take a team effort to meet most goals, then the team should be part of the planning process. This will allow you to tap into one of your most important resources – the skills and logic of the folks who will be working with you to meet the goal. If you want them on board, bring them into the process and allow their ideas to be heard and implemented when they add value to the plan. By taking this step, the goal is no longer just yours – it becomes the team’s goal.
Announce decisions in time to allow your team members to prepare for success. Once you have a plan, each member of the team may have to make adjustments to their schedules to help with the project. They may need to do some research or obtain material to execute their portion of the project. They may need to coordinate efforts with another department or agency outside of your office. Give them as much time as possible to ensure they can create their own plans and that they can feel successful. And of course, follow up with them so that you can ensure everyone is heading toward the objective.
Make sure your employees are familiar with corporate level policies and plans. As with any project, there may be corporate policies and objectives that must be taken into consideration when formulating the process by which the project will proceed. If your employees are familiar with these policies, then the planning will ensure the project follows these guidelines.
Consider the effects of your decisions on all members of your team. We all have that ‘go to’ person in our organization; that individual who seems to be able to accomplish any task that we place on them. But if we are not careful, this one person soon becomes overwhelmed by the extra workload. Learn to develop all team members equally so that projects are spread over the entire organization and not always given to the same person or persons. Remember, a successful project is one of the surest ways to move your team from good to exceptional.
Finally, not all situations will afford you the opportunity to accomplish the steps outlined above. Sometimes, you have to quickly evaluation an emergency situation and formulate a quick solution to protect others. The more you practice the above steps, the better prepared you will be for the emergency. So when this happens, make a decision based upon past experiences. In most cases, you will be right – but in every case, making a decision will be better than doing nothing.
I remember as a new warrant officer in the Marine Corps, one of my trusted senior enlisted computer operators told me that I was headed for trouble because I was willing to make decisions and then move to implement the decision quickly. I smiled and let him know that in my opinion, that was what I was being paid to do and until told otherwise, that was what I intended to do. When he asked me why I was willing to stick my neck out like that, I told him that I had worked for too many people who were in positions of leadership but could not make a simple decision for fear it might be wrong. I hated working for indecisive people and I swore to myself that once I earned a leadership role, I would never subject my people to wishy-washy decision making. I would rather be wrong than do nothing at all.
Be the leader – learn how to make wise decisions in a timely manner.