''Decision'...or... 'Choice'?' Jonathon asked me.
'Same thing,' I said.
I was wrong.
''Choice' is selecting one of at least two options,' I later corrected myself to Jonathon. ''Decision' is the product of a good decision making process.'
I was happier with this distinction.
Until I read a 1980 article Shared Responsibility in Ecclesial Decision-Making by Robert T. Kennedy, a Canon Lawyer.
He calls decision-makers 'choice makers'.
The decision/choice maker chooses between two or more options presented by what Kennedy calls 'idea people' - creative people who who have contributed their ideas towards a decision making process that arrives at the choices that are presented to the decision maker.
This view of decision making dramatically and constructively shifts deep and unsatisfying assumptions about power that are the source of much of the tension in workplaces.
As Kennedy says:
‘To decide well, there is need for many, diverse talents. The rarity of finding all such talents in a single individual gives rise to the need for participation by many people. Influence and power, so far from being concentrated solely in the moment of choice, are diffused throughout all stages of the decision-making process. Responsibility for a decision does not rest solely with the choice-makers.’
'If the choice makers are choosing between two or more options presented by idea people – who really holds the power?'
‘Choice-makers are often held captive (for better or worse) by idea people.'
Kennedy's analysis flattens the hierarchy in organisations and communities between those who have authority to make decisions and the rest.
It also adds to our understanding of the role of the leader.
Kennedy says that what an organisation most needs from its leaders is 'facilitation of the decision making process'. The leader is responsible for identifying, drawing forward and coordinating the 'necessary gifts' among the team in service of the Widget.
Indeed, Kennedy says that 'A leader need not be a choice-maker, or data or idea person, or implementor or evaluator. The service of a leader is quite different and requires quite different talents.’
The Receptionist is a leader.
Kennedy also addresses the majority of disengaged workers who haunt our workplaces:
‘Irresponsible refusal to participate, moreover, is in its own way a form of sharing responsibility for a decision. We are responsible not only for what we do but also for what we refuse to do; withholding the contribution of our talent, therefore, creates responsibility in us for decisions poorly made because of our failure to participate.’
If we engage with the decision maker by applying our talents to the creation of choices that are presented to her, we are co-responsible for the decision - even if the 'choice' was not one that we presented. By adding our ideas to the options before the decision-maker, we have influenced her choice by allowing her to compare and contrast alternatives. She was only able to not choose our option because she had it as a comparison.
Kennedy's 'choice maker' analysis is also a powerful reminder to decision-makers and leaders that good decision making demands authentic relationships with the 'idea people' so that their gifts may be discerned and recruited to nourish the decision making process.