Being the Boss and Making the Decisions

by Kelly Vandever

“I need to shut that noise down now.”

My friend was speaking about one of her employees who’d been speaking up and making suggestions about how to do something at work.

“What? What’s that face you’re making?” she asked.

I’m still not used to the fact that my facial expressions give away the thoughts running through my brain…even though it happens to me all the time.

This friend knows me well. She’s even listened to my Permission to Speak podcast

So I say, “Well, my podcast and the stuff I write about is focused on helping leaders encourage their employees to speak up.”

“Well, I’m OK if she speaks up. I did ask for her opinion.” She replied. “But once I’ve taken into account her opinion, it’s my decision to make. When the decision is made, the discussion is over.”

Being the Boss and Making Decisions

Being a leader sucks.

You’re accountable for everything that happens under your watch.

Everyone’s got their opinions: your talented subordinates, your wise and experienced bosses, your imminently competent peers.

But they also don’t have all the information you have.

Even if you welcome another’s input, you can’t make everyone happy. Right?

Now add to that the nuisances of an Agile environment.  Where decisions about how the work is done are pushed down to the people doing the work.

But someone still needs to set strategy and vision for the organization, right?

Dang!  That’s a lot of stress!

There’s no way to know if you’re really getting it right.

But consider these few points as you wrestle with making decisions as a leader in today’s technology industry.

Set Expectations Upfront

Let employees know how the decision will be made… and which decisions will be made how.

Knowledge workers like those in the technology industry are brilliant.  Whether in an Agile environment or not, they want to know how they’ll be able to contribute.

So tell them… Which decisions will be made entirely by the team doing the work?  What kinds of decisions will be made by leaders?  Will decisions involving management and teams be made by consensus? Or will you make the call taking into account their input? Or will the decision be made further up the chain of command? Be clear upfront about how the different types of decisions will be made.

I didn’t work in an Agile environment so I used to say to my staff: “I want your input, but I will ultimately make the decision. If the decision is different than your recommendation, most of the time I’ll tell you why I chose a different decision. Occasionally, I may have additional information that I can’t share that influenced the decision. Other times, we may just disagree. As the manager, I’m held responsible so I make the decision that I think is best.”

The point being, I set the expectations upfront. Yes, I want their input, but I retain the prerogative to make the decision.

Maybe that approach won’t work on your Agile team because it undermines the trust you’ve built with your team.  In that case, you need to be ready to accept the team’s wisdom.  Ask a lot of smart questions.   But know that maintaining the Agile mindset is more important that proving yourself right.

Whatever your environment and whatever your approach, make sure you set up the expectations early.

Ask for Input First and Don’t Commit to a Decision Until You Listen to the Input

Regardless of whether you work in an Agile environment or not, always ask for input beforeyou make the decision. And definitely ask for input before you express your opinion or indicate what you plan to do.

If you express your opinions first, it’s almost an involuntary reflex for most employees, even highly intelligent knowledge workers with important information to contribute, to go into protectionism mode and tell you what they think you want to hear.  If they fall into this mode, you won’t get the best information to use in decision making.

As humans we’re natural problems solvers, particularly in the technology industry. You may already know what you want to do. But work hard to keep your mind open so that you factor in other points of view that may have an even better answer.

One of the reasons I love the Agile approach is because if done correctly, getting the wisdom of the group is the first step and not an afterthought.  There’s real wisdom there!

Be Willing to Change & Admit When You Are Wrong

Once a decision is made, don’t get so married to the decision or to your ego that you’re not willing to change that decision when things don’t work out like you anticipated. Yes, you may hear, “I told you so.” Yes, you may hate to admit you’re wrong. But you prove yourself a much better person and a more trustworthy leader when you’re willing to take your lumps when you’ve made the wrong choice. (After all, you would probably take the glory if all had worked out!)

Realize that works for team decisions too.  If the team made a decision that you disagreed with, be the bigger person and resist the temptation to say “I told you so.”  Focus instead on your mutual goals and how you’ll move forward.

Leaders Are Human, Too

I don’t think less of my friend because she was frustrated with her employee. After all, leaders are human, too.

We want people to speak up. But sometimes we also just want to move on.

But be careful. Imagine how you would feel if you were in their shoes. Don’t squelch your team’s enthusiasm. You’re going to need it later!


Kelly Vandever is a leadership and communications expert who helps leaders and organizations thrive in today’s attention-deficit, entertain-me-now, wait-while-I-post-that-on-Facebook world.   Connect with Kelly and discover how being professionally human can bring you better business results. 

Contact Kelly by phone at 770-597-1108, email her or tweet her @KellyVandever.

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