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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You must make a conscious decision to do something. To avoid this step is to court disaster, because a decision is probably not necessary if no data exists which indicates that one has to be made. Once you have laid out the data that tells you that you must make a decision, go to work developing alternative solutions to the problem that you have identified.

Evaluation of solutions is the next critical step on the road to effective decision-making. Do not leap toward the first solution that comes to mind. The most obvious choice may not be the most effective or efficient means to reach the ends you desire.

Incidentally, you should decide what constitutes a good decision before you begin your search for that decision. It makes little sense to entertain alternatives that are too costly, possibly illegal or patently inappropriate for the talent of your personnel. Lay out a range of solutions and then compare them to your specifications.

Pick the one that seems to come closest to doing what you want done. Do not stretch things out. Some of the worst decisions that I have ever made were ones that I spent too much time agonizing over. Be businesslike. Look at the problem and, after an appropriate period of study, solve the problem and move on to the next problem.

It is critical for you to remember to evaluate the feedback generated by any decision you make. While this is more important with non-programmed decisions, it is also good to look at your routine decisions periodically to see if your programmed solution is still appropriate.

Let me warn you that several factors are working to stymie your decision-making procedures. Decisions cannot be divorced from the people making those decisions. Be aware that these people will be making value judgments. These will be based on their personal background and experience. You must look at these people, learn how they think and what they think about. Their personal biases can tinge their judgment and submarine your operation. Know this fact and exercise caution. People are all different. They think differently and this may work for you or against you. Be aware of it.

Your organization can be a critical factor in determining how successful you will be as a decision-maker. The use of a mission statement along with solid goals and objectives can get everyone in your department thinking along the same lines. But if your organization lacks these critical elements, you will be left on your own to set the criteria for acceptable decisions. And you can imagine how lonely that place can be.

Effective leaders are aware of these matters. They know that a certain amount of organizational development is necessary on their part in order to create an environment where the personal skills of the leader can be brought to bear. This is especially important in the world of decision-making.

The mechanics of what constitutes an acceptable level of decision-making risk varies from person to person. The amount of risk that a person is willing to tolerate says a lot about the types of decisions that will be made. This can lead to solid decision-making or shooting from the hip. Guard against the latter.

You need to remember that different people will tolerate the same risk in different ways. And a person may react differently on consecutive days, given differing personal pressures. If I am giving you the idea that decision-making is difficult, then you have been paying attention.

Lastly, avoid post-decision blues. "Did I make the right decision?" This is a question that has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion. Once you make a decision, move on, unless the feedback says to take another look. To continually mull things over is to court an ulcer.

When all is said and done, people will remember only your very best and your very worst decisions. And you will not know which one is going to end up being the really bad one while you are in the midst of making them. If you are going to be a leader, you will really need to be out front on the issue of making effective decisions. So get on with it, and start making some good decisions. The choice is yours, partner.