'In order to put prejudice aside it is first necessary to acknowledge it.'
- Her Honour Judge Braddock SC
Each step in the Good Decision Making process is a forcing function. It compels us to pay attention to information that we might otherwise skip over or overlook or assume.
A good boss has her finger on the pulse. She knows her people. She knows her Widget. She knows the imperfections in each. It is impossible for her to not have an opinion. She could get away like most with making decisions on instinct.
The good boss also knows her own imperfections. The better she gets at decision making, the more conscious she becomes of her fallibility. [A great way to tell a good boss from a boss.]
In her Fourth Step, the good boss pays attention to her thoughts. She may even invite others to listen to her speak them. Has she pre-judged her decision?
[A good boss is a teacher. The Five Steps make visible her thinking for the benefit of others.]
As with the First Step, the Fourth Step allows the decision maker to acknowledge the imperfections that make her human. Her biases that may not serve her Widget.
In doing so, she invites those around her to do likewise. To be themselves.
The flaws that allow her to become who she is - free others to do the same.
The steps to a good decision elevate us - and those around us - beyond the decision. It quickly disappears in the distance as we continue our journey to become who we are.
'For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that -- either now or in the uncertain future -- patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private and innocent acts.'
- Bruce Schneier
The Leader begins by creating the Space. She invites others into the Space to become who they are. She assumes that they will make mistakes. Get things wrong. Fail.
The Leader doesn't respond with regulation. The opposite. She ultimately Retreats - leaving us to do our work. To make more mistakes. To continue becoming.
Her faith in us mostly doesn't end well in the measure of the world. We fear freedom. Getting it wrong. We don't know what to do. No-one has taught us. We want to be told. We want someone to blame for our choices. For our unhappiness.
We feel threatened when observed. [I'm not trusted.'] We feel threatened when unobserved. ['I don't get any feedback or gratitude.']
Eventually the Leader is replaced by a manager. He tells us what to do. He checks and corrects. We chafe and share our grievances with each other during our designated breaks and are secretly grateful that we are no longer responsible for our unhappiness.
Longing for Leadership.
'I would have written a shorter letter but I didn't have the time.'
Step 1 of the Five Steps to a Good Decision: Step Back.
A clue that the retreat was the length of the checkout queue:
'Sent from my iPhone.'
'One thing I said I could help him with was Leadership. Because I was thrust into that with West Coast.
'And I'll be honest as I have said to him privately...probably not publicly as much as I am about to now...but I probably let him down a few times giving him...probably cutting him too much slack to go home and do all those sorts of things.
'So I don't think I actually helped him. I thought I was doing the right thing by him keeping him happy so he would continue to play football which is...ultimately...I was trying to help the Club.
'But from a Leadership...from a pure Leadership point of view...would I have done that in [his home town of] Melbourne? Well...I would not have had to have done that in Melbourne...to give him a training session off here and there so he could stay back with family and friends back in Melbourne.
'But I thought to keep him happy...to keep him playing happy...I thought that was the most important thing from an early point...
'I went to him and said 'I've probably let you down'.'
The first job of a Leader is to create the Space. Allow people to stretch and become who they are. Whack them if they breach it. Not as discipline or punishment. Not as an exercise in power. Not to diminish the person. To invite them to become as she knows they are.
Evidence that Guy McKenna is a Leader. His humility. His honesty. His measure of himself by his service to others. He doesn't wait to be criticised - to be complained about - for him to proactively admit - 'I failed you. Sorry.'
A month after this interview, Guy McKenna was criticised for allowing Gary Ablett too much freedom leading up to a big game.
The day after the article was published Gary Ablett led in possessions as he captained the Gold Coast Suns to a 40 point win - its first ever - over his former club Geelong.
"The real hell of life is everyone has his reasons."
- Jean Renoir
The Premier of Western Australia Mr Colin Barnett has not supported a push to remove one of his party members who continues to criticise his government, including calling for Mr Barnett to resign.
Another example of a leader who is on top of his game.
Allowing a critic to remain within the ranks is the sign of a confident leader. And not because of her ego blinding her to the criticism.
The good leader knows that there is wisdom in testing arguments and positions inside the tent before they are released into the wild.
As Dr Tim McDonald says: 'Private honesty. Public loyalty.'
Mr Barnett's accommodation of a dissenting view is also his compliment to the community he serves. He assumes of us what he is demonstrating himself: the maturity to accept that difference is not to be feared.
Mr Barnett is not afraid that the voting public may assume that his party's internal dissent calls into question the ability of his government to run our hospitals and schools and keep our streets safe.
This is what leaders do. They create a space that invites us in to see the version of ourselves that we want to become. 'See?' Mr Barnett says to us. 'I can run an entire State amidst criticism from one of my own. I'm not fleeing. I'm not fighting. I'm smiling. Try it in your own family, workplace, community.'
Very, very few people or organisations can do this. Basically, we don't know how. We don't have the skills. We haven't practised accommodating dissonance. We actively discourage dissent - often quashing it under cover of a breach of 'values' or 'code of conduct'. We drive the our critics to the fringes - until they have to scream so loudly that any merit in their shouted message is dismissed with labels such as 'vexatious'.
If you want to test the maturity and confidence of an organisation or person - say 'complaint'.
Mature people and organisations will seek out dissenters to join their decision making process to kick the tyres.
If they can't find such a critic, they will appoint one. The 'devil's advocate' was someone appointed by the Catholic Church to argue against the canonisation of a person into sainthood.
The mature organisation knows that a dissenter is one of the ways to avoid the trap of groupthink.
The critic - whether internal or external - demands that we explain ourselves - rather than just declare, or even be satisfied by giving reasons for a decision.
A recent study showed that people who were asked to give reasons for an opinion remained convinced of its rightness. While other people who were asked to give a step by step explanation of how they arrived at their opinion were more likely to recognise an error in their thinking and start reviewing their assumptions.
(Herein lies the value of the Five Steps to a Good Decision.)
Therein also lies both the solution and the problem.
Better to cling on to the flawed certainty of our understanding of the world than to expose ourselves to the panic of finding out that we've been wrong.
It's a rare person who can accommodate the distraction in time and energy of a critic.
Which is why we need leaders like Mr Barnett who have the confidence to show us that whether we label it criticism, dissent, disloyalty, or even treason, it's just information.
Another opportunity for us to measure how we're going with our Widget.
Good leaders are rare.
St Benedict stated in his Rule for monks that there is no greater evil in a community than 'murmuring'. That sixth century behaviour translates as gossiping or underhanded and hidden criticism of someone in an organisation - usually in authority.
He receives a letter purporting to terminate his partnership in the firm. After a moment of reflection (Step 1 - Step Back), he summonses all the decision makers who may have conspired against him out of their offices and into the open plan - where they could each see and be seen by Don, each other, and the other non-decision making staff.
Don: 'Hey! Get out here!' I just got a breach letter with your name on the bottom.'
Don: 'Joan! Get out here! Joan! Could you get Cooper out here?
Joan: 'What's going on?'
Don: 'Find Pete. No-one knows about this?'
Joan: 'I saw it.'
Don: 'Then why did you say 'What's going on?''
Cooper: 'I want you to calm down. I just called Jim, we're going to get the bottom of this.'
Pete: 'Is there a meeting?'
Don: 'Have you seen this?'
Pete: 'This is outrageous! You know we're going to be at Burger Chef on Monday!'
Roger: 'I vote against this. Right now.'
Jim: 'It's not subject to a vote. The contract is very clear.'
Don: 'You want to play parliamentary procedure? Let's play. Everyone who wants to get rid of me - raise your hand.'
Jim: 'Fine. I have Ted's proxy.'
Cooper: 'You had no right to put my name on that!'
Don: 'Anyone else?... All opposed?...Motion denied!'
Pete: 'That's a very sensitive piece of horse flesh. He shouldn't be rattled!'
- Mad Men Season 7 'Waterloo'.
Good decision making draws the decision maker out of his office into a neutral space of inquiry and invites those who may be affected by it to contribute in full view of each other.
Peggy: Did you park your white horse outside? Spare me the suspense and tell me what your Save the Day Plan is.
Don: I don't have anything yet. The idea I had wasn't great.
Peggy: It wasn't great. It was terrible. Now I want to hear the real one. Or are you just going to pull it out during the presentation?
Don: This idea is good. I think we can get the client to buy it.
Peggy: No you don't. Or you wouldn't have questioned it.
Don: I'm going to do whatever you say.
Peggy: So you're going to pitch the hell out of my shitty idea and I'm going to fail?
Don: Peggy, I'm here to help you do whatever you want to do.
Peggy: Well how am I supposed to know?
Don: That's a tough one.
Peggy: You love this.
Don: Not really. I want you to feel good about what you're doing but you'll never know. That's just the job.
Peggy: What's the job?
Don: Living in the "Not knowing".
Peggy: You know I wouldn't have argued if it was me. I would have just given you a hundred ideas and never questioned why. You really want to help me? Show me how you think. Do it out loud.
Don: You can't tell people what they want. It has to be what you want.
Peggy: Well I want to go to the movies.
Don: Whenever I'm really unsure of an idea, first I abuse the people whose help I need. And then I take a nap.
Don: Then I start at the beginning again. And see if I end up in the same place.
- Mad Men - Series 7 'The Strategy'.
'Creativity is caring enough to keep thinking about something until you find the simplest way to do it.'
- Tim Cook
The first of the Five Steps to a Good Decision is to Step Back.
The information hits our desk.
Surprise, anger, annoyance, frustration, disbelief, hurt, delight, indignation, suspicion, confusion, amusement, alarm, despair.
We are human. We have emotions fed by thousands of years of evolution.
The first step to a good decision is to not make one.
Be selfish for as long as it takes to be able to focus on serving your Boss - or someone else.
Allow yourself the time to be honest and submit to your weaknesses.
Surrender your story of Busy Manager, Heroic Leader, Decisive Boss, Overworked Supervisor, Indispensable Assistant. Martyr.
Lean back in your chair and wallow in how unfair life is.
Ring, email or text a colleague or friend with a whinge.
Go home and vent to your spouse or tropical fish.
Recline with a glass of wine or seven.
Go for a run.
Do whatever it takes to admit and indulge your authentic selfish feelings.
Allow the chemicals to recede and perspective to emerge.
We die to that person who wanted to run or fight.
We step back into ourselves so that we can become who we are.
We return to the Decision and our Widget and the person who our boss is paying us to be.
If we don’t retreat into ourselves to be ourselves, then we risk tangling our ego with our decision.
We risk a conflict between who we are, and who our boss wants us to be.
By surrendering to our selfishness – if for only a few minutes – we are better equipped to be selfless.
There are studies that show that we cannot focus on the other if we're pre-occupied with ourselves.
Some remarkable, unforeseen, positive, creative things can happen in that space that cannot happen in the largely rational, logical process that follows.
Allowing this space isn’t easy amidst the largely self-imposed pressure to be ‘decisive’.
Like any skill, doing nothing takes practice.
But doesn’t creating space and taking time over a decision risk appearing not to care? Appear not to be taking the decision seriously, especially by others who are relying on it?
By slowing down and giving the decision time and attention you're investing more in it and are more likely to care more about it.
If you care about something you're more likely to do a better job.
The more important a decision, the longer it should take.
Don't reply to the email. Don't pick up the phone. Don't summon the staff member. Don't interrupt. Don't pretend to be someone you're not.
Because then you're only adding another person to the fight.
Step 1 - Step Back.
It's the idea of creating the space.
Mundane tasks like checklists free up space in our calendars and our heads for the artistry.
The Widget is the most visible part of a ‘successful’ person’s life. We can easily assume that it’s simply the product of an innate talent or instinct or gift that we don’t have.
Perhaps the only difference between successful people and the rest of us is that the former have a spark that motivates them to invest the time in things like checklists that release the oxygen that allows their spark to ignite into a flame that attracts the rest of us.
The rest of us who don’t have a Widget to inspire us to do the mundane ’10,000 hours of practice’ stuff.
Maybe if we can overcome the reputation of Checklists and Rules and Boundaries as compliance and elevate them to being a means of freeing us up to do the interesting stuff – then we’ll be onto something.
We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see,
it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer,
perhaps even a fiercer life because of our quiet.
- William Butler Yeats, The Celtic Twilight
A Leader makes decisions that others choose to follow.
They follow a better version of themselves they glimpse in the Leader.
Leaders are Quiet.
Monks managed and educated most of Western Europe for a few hundred years. They understand Recruit Hard, Manage Easy.
The novice monk presents himself for his final interview.
Here's the gist of what follows.
'Pay attention,' the Abbot says to the other monks and people gathered to witness and support the novice. 'Remember: Life is short. You're a long time dead. So let's not waste time.'
'Is there anyone here who wants to be a monk?' the Abbot asks.
'I do,' says the novice monk.
One of the monks who he'll have to live, work and pray with speaks.
'He's been with us on probation,' is the gist of what he says publicly to the Abbot. 'And now, on behalf of all of us, we think he's ready to become a permanent member of our team.'
'What do you want from being a monk?' the Abbot asks the novice.
'To serve by my actions.'
'Hear, hear,' is the essence of what the other monks say.
The Abbot continues. 'Are you sure that this is what you want to do?'
'Do you promise to commit yourself fully to this vocation?'
'Do you promise to follow our rules because you know that they will allow you to reach your potential?'
'Do you promise to put the needs of the team ahead of your own?'
'Are you resolved to strive constantly for self-improvement for the benefit of others and something bigger than yourself by zealously following the rules?'
'Are you resolved to serve others?'
'We believe that you speak with integrity,' the Abbot says. 'And we trust you.'
'Hear, hear,' the monks and those in the church say.
The novice monk walks up and stands before the Abbot. He bows his head. He slowly and purposefuly reads out loud the conditions of his contract.
He has written them all out by hand.
The monks walk up to the altar and stand around him in a large circle. He places his contract on the altar and signs it.
He then holds it up to show the Abbot. He walks around the circle of his brethren stopping in front of each one and holding his signed contract up to show them.
The novice monk holds it up to show all the people in the church.
He stands before the altar and sings the Suscipe with arms extended.
Suscipe me Domine, secundum eloquium tuum et vivam: et non confundas me ab exsectatione mea.
Here I am. Now don't let me down.
He sings it three times.
The monks sing it three times.
He's now a fully professed member of the monastery team.
Clear expectations. Clear mutual promises. Clear boundaries. Publicly declared. Repeated. Celebrated.
Hamish Hamilton's good decision-making and Widget Thinking have led him to be chosen to camera direct U2, the Oscars, the London Olympics ceremonies and earned him a British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award.
He was once asked how he dealt with the stress of multi camera directing.
'My talent is definitely remaining calm. Remaining polite. And in extremely stressful situations, making other people smile. Motivating people on a human level. And just providing a safe environment in which they can excel.
'I can take on a lot of the crap and a lot of the stress and if I can take it and I'm holding it in within myself, it's not permeating out into them. Sometimes that's not possible. But I do try and keep it jolly.
'Because actually you know what?
People make better decisions when they're smiling.'
I had decided before the phone landed back on its cradle.
I was annoyed. Angry. Frustrated. Indignant. Irritated. Offended.
I was right and they were wrong. It was irrefutable. I was their boss. I was going to do my job and boss them.
I rose from my chair to walk the seven minutes down to where they were waiting. I was going to put things right. Out the door. Beneath trees splintering 5.30pm sunlight. Through the aromas of earth, heat and bush. Propelled by my duty I tracked towards my wayward charges.
That person did not meet them. Someone else did.
They had held onto their anger and emptied it over me. Mine had peeled off in transit. They spat their argument. Mine straggled behind me kicking gum nuts. They had been rehearsing their demands. I had been seven minutes free in the late afternoon.
We all discovered a better position for the coffee machine.
They were still wrong and I remained right. Just as the gum nuts had obediently arced away into the softness of leaf debris in response to my boot. So what?
Their rebellion had gifted me seven minutes glimpsing wisdom and Grace.
The Abbot used to say that there aren't as many Holy people as there once were. I think that he was talking about Leaders.
Leaders are much, much rarer than the many to whom we award that title. Very few people have all the qualities of a leader because they are counter-intuitive. Study Leadership and the conclusion is that Leadership is impossible. May as well be a boss instead.
The aspiring Leader attends to the list of qualities and inevitably edges her brain towards the abyss of contradictions and vulnerabilities - until she closes her eyes and leaps into her fears then feels the soft tug of the silken parachute of Grace filling with air above her and lowering her gently back down to earth.
Never to be the same.
Decision triggers stress.
Stress triggers decision.
Before making a decision - don't.
Step 1: Step Back.
'Make the time to be scared of more interesting things.'
- Merlin Mann
Watching TV at 8.37pm on a Wednesday when my phone announced an email and I nearly vomited.
At my desk at 2.50pm when I'm summonsed by the boss and I pocket my shaking hands.
Exiting the ceiling loft at 11.15 on a Saturday morning watching work scenes in my head instead of the ladder and stepping into space and falling five metres onto a plastic bin and then concrete.
I lay on my side for ten minutes wiggling my toes and visualising my spine and ribs and pulling plastic shards from my clothes and feeling reincarnated.
Work had nearly killed me.
I thought of the Merlin Mann quote.
The earth had slammed me into its bosom demanding I make time to think about my fear dividend.
Slumped in a car outside a chemist with a searing headache after a second day of prosecuting two military pilots. Stressed. Out of my depth. Thriving.
Sitting at a boardroom table next to the Chief Operating Officer facing off ten government and commercial lawyers opposite and the contract that would make or break our start-up company in stalemate. Stomach churning. Overwhelmed. Thrilling.
Emails about inaccurate staff leave accounting making me nauseous? Ridiculous.
Calls about not filling out an HR form correctly constricting my breathing? Embarrassing.
'Explaining your situation is not going to be nearly as useful as trying to change it through action.'
- Merlin Mann
'I have nothing to say to you,' he said over the telephone.
He was a policeman so he knew his rights.
I had powers of investigation, but not over him.
I was on a deadline and he was a critical witness.
I thought about driving the three hours to try to speak with him in person only so I could say to my boss: 'I even drove for three hours to try to speak with him in person.' I would hang my head and he would put a reassuring hand on my shoulder.
The witness's refusal left me with so many questions and I was running out of time. No less than the Chief of Air Force was waiting on my report. I had so much work to do. I had to write so many more words to hide the fact from the Air Vice Marshal that I had nothing to say. 'What a long report,' he would say. 'You obviously worked so hard.' I needed to do some hard work.
So I went out and bought a newspaper and a coffee and a croissant and did the crossword at a café overlooking the Yarra River. I finished the crossword and sat and watched people for about an hour. Okay it was two.
I was following a rowing crew stroke its way past when it came to me.
I returned to my desk and rang him back.
'I just wanted to let you know that all the other people I've spoken with have laid the blame with you. The evidence as it stands will lead me to make an adverse finding about you so I wanted to give you the opportunity to put your side of the story.'
He spoke for the next two hours.
Step 1: Step Back.
Step 5: Hearing.
Good decision making in three words:
Be attentively curious.
Curiosity is about asking questions.
Attention - according to neuroscientists - is about suppressing distractions rather than enhancing what you're paying attention to.
It's all about the Widget.
Remember the Five Steps.
Step 1: Step Back. Indulge in the distractions. Don't suppress them. Romp in all the feelings and irrational thoughts that won't get the Widget built but that are distracting you from doing so. Be selfish. Purge. Be human. Be yourself.
Step 2: Identify the Issue. Return to the Widget. Start earning your pay. Start asking questions.
Step 3: Assess the Information. Data. Policies. Logic. Cool. Questions.
Step 4: Identify Bias. Am I being distracted by something irrelevant to the Widget? Questions.
Step 5: Give a Hearing. Hey! Affected person! Proof read this! Have I missed anything? Questions.
Questions suppress distractions by forcing us to listen to answers - and by zooming in on the parts of the answers that are Widget relevant.
Make the Decision. Become who you are.
Remove the distractions from everyone who's relying on the decision so that they can do their jobs.
It's called Leadership.
'If one of us doesn't say something now we might lose ten years being polite about it.'
- Renée Zellweger - Jerry Maguire
There are many euphemisms for terminating someone's employment.
'Making you available to the labour force' is one.
'Allowing you to find your happiness elsewhere' is my favourite.
There is a school of thought that says a boss's decision to terminate someone's employment should be hers alone. Right, wrong, fair, unfair, stupid, wise. Irrelevant. The boss wants the ditch dug. If she doesn't want to pay me to do it any more because I'm wearing a blue tee shirt - then fine. It's her ditch and her cash.
If I'm as good a ditch digger as I think that I am, why protest? Best I shoulder-arms my shovel and someone will have offered me a job even before it's come to rest on my shrugging shoulder.
If I'm not a good ditch digger, best to find out now because I've got a mortgage. And a life of marrow-sucking days ahead.
Either way - good ditch-digger or woeful - my decisions in response to those made by others are probably teaching each of us both more than if we'd been polite. The boss gets better ditches or regrets being blue-ist. I get a better boss or my bobcat ticket.
The reality is that the industrial laws don't make sacking someone that easy. The legislators and the judges have designed a series of forcing functions into the employment decision-making processes. They compel bosses to follow steps that deter blue tee shirt discriminators making rash sacking decisions that may be damaging to their business and the worker's well-being. Wait. Step Back.
The result is that it's easy to hire and hard to fire.
Perhaps it should be the other way around.
Recruit hard. Mange easy.
'If you don't deliberate (at least for a little bit), it's not a decision, it's a reflex.'
- BJ Fogg
According to research by global management consultancy Hay Group (brought to my attention by Jonathon), 94 per cent of Human Resource Directors believe that empowering line managers to make people decisions is a top priority.
Agreed. Sort of.
It's easy to assume that 'swift and efficient' equals 'good'.
It's easy to mistake the cries of 'I wish someone around here would just make a decision!' as a call for speed and economy. Swift and efficient.
Decisive decision makers are rarely good decision makers.
They look good because they're swift and efficient.
They make decisions alright. Bang, bang, bang. Faster than their harried assistants can drag a pen or finger to cross off each item in a real or virtual To Do list.
'Is that it?' they say at the end, rising from their chair, casting their eyes around the room, before blowing away the wisp of smoke curling from their gun barrel and re-holstering it. 'Good. Meeting adjourned.'
'He's so decisive!' they whisper to each other as they file out of the room.
Few of them see what happens next. The aftermath of decisions made without reflection, delegation, assessment or fairness. The consequences rear-ending each other and bursting into flames in open plan offices all around the organisation. Good people trying to support and execute on swift and efficient decisions that lack logic or evidence or authority or justice.
HR departments should get in line behind the accountants, lawyers and other advisers and wait their turn to empower line managers' good decision making. In Step 2, and perhaps an encore in Step 3 of the Five Steps to a Good Decision.
If the line manager is a good one, they may have to wait. She will be busy stepping back.