The Good Leader Is Decisive

Over the past many months, I have written a great deal about the concept of leadership. This was a conscious decision on my part. I have seen a growing number of instances where problems came about in fire departments because people were simply not good...


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When you finally come to the realization that a problem exists, you will need to have a plan for making the necessary decisions in your life. I have developed a seven-step plan for making decisions:

  1. Recognize that a problem exists.
  2. Analyze the data surrounding the situation.
  3. Develop alternative solutions which seem to fit the situation.
  4. Evaluate the alternatives to see which one will probably fit your needs best.
  5. Choose one.
  6. Do it.
  7. Evaluate the feedback and make adjustments as necessary.

The first step in the problem-solving process is the simplest and most important. You must admit that a problem exists. Once you get this step, you can begin to get to work developing a positive solution.

The second step involves defining the problem. You need to define the problem in written form. This helps to focus your thinking.

The third step is the part where you begin to analyze the problem. You must work to get the whole story. Facts are critical. You should review the record, then find out what rules, customs and procedures apply. You should then talk with all of the people involved in the situation. This is critical. You need to gather opinions, facts and feelings. You need to ask people the following questions:

  • What did you see?
  • What did you hear?
  • What did you say?

You can then decide on your method of attacking the problem. You can choose to solve it yourself, without outside assistance, or you can choose to call a conference with the key people. It is possible that you could delegate the investigation to another person or form a committee to study the situation. Lastly, there are those who decide to call in an outside consultant to assist you in attacking the problem.

As you work to develop alternative solutions, do not jump to conclusions or use the first solution you find. You should fit the facts together, consider their interaction, one upon the other. Which is the causal factor and which is just the symptom of the problem?

Review department policies and procedures for possible pre-existing solutions. Consider any potential effects on people and the organization. Consider all possible alternatives. This is called "brainstorming." Put the ideas of your people to work. And it is critical to ask yourself if all of the alternatives are realistic.

The fourth step can be the most difficult. You need to take action. And do not try to pass the buck! You will need to select the best alternative for the situation at hand. Then it is important to decide if you are going to do the job yourself or if you need help. There are some other questions that you will need to answer. Should you kick the solution of the problem up to your boss? Or is it within the capability of your team to do it? Whichever way it goes, it is critical to do something!

The fifth step is very important. You must check for results. Follow-up will tell you how well you are doing. How soon should you follow up? If the task is critical, checking soon is good. How often should you check? Often enough to insure that the desired results are being achieved, but not so often that your people think that you do not trust them. You must watch for changes in output, attitudes and relationships.

At this point you will need to ask a critical question. Did you solve the problem? If the answer is yes, congratulations. If the answer is no, then you would be well advised to try another of the alternatives that you identified. But it may well be that you will come up short and have to start the problem-solving process again. Be sure to work right from the very beginning of the formula. Do not skip any steps.

And if the solution does not work, select another. If none of your solutions work, then it will be necessary to go back to step 1. Redefine the problem and reanalyze the data. Work the system until you get it right. That will equal a solved problem.

While it may be difficult to remember all of the steps, we would urge you to commit them to memory. We would also strongly advise that you use them in order. Do not jump steps or jump to obvious conclusions. This can lead to problems, and problems are what you are attempting to solve with your decision-making process.