Help Your Team Make Better Decisions

I had a recent conversion with a marketing executive on what challenges he was facing going into the new year. Decision-making came up. He didn’t trust his team to make big decisions due to their complexity and political nature. 

I asked what he was doing to solve that issue. He responded, “It’s one of my major challenges but I’m not sure how to even go about solving it.”

I then pointed out that he wasn’t born with the skills to deal with these decisions, so how did he learn them? He responded, “I had a great boss who worked with me to learn how to tackle them.” He continued explaining the training he received.

I said that we could follow a similar process. He looked at me puzzled and said, “I’m not sure if any of my team members could learn in the same way.”

Conversations like this are common in my practice. Executives assume they possess a unique skill that can’t be taught or learned. Even those who remember actually learning the skill of making decisions, don’t believe others can do that.

Helping your team make better decisions and being able to delegate to them, is one of the most important skills any executive needs. Here’s how to tackle it.

Great Process, Not Great People

The history of music is full of genius artists such as Bach or Mozart. For most of history, an artist needed to express the total range of music with only one instrument as Mozart did with the piano. As a result, an artist needed superhuman skill.

However, by the end of the 18th century, the genius musician was replaced with the modern orchestra. You could now have competent individuals play one instrument and come together to create beautiful music. Perceived limits to music disappeared once there was no need to rely on genius. 

The same thing happens with companies. You sometimes have great people—Steve Jobs at Apple, Alfred Sloan at GM, Jack Welch at GE—but you’re better off with a great team full of competent people.

If your company requires genius to make good decisions, you will eventually struggle. Superhuman skill isn’t always easy to find. A great process—like the modern orchestra—can achieve much more.

That’s what the marketing executive in the introduction was missing. It’s not about finding genius talent. It is about helping competent people make better decisions. That’s something all companies can do.

Help Someone Learn, Don’t Teach

Our perception of education for the past 2,000 years has been obsessed with teachers. The rise of the Ph.D. and other advanced degrees has made us believe that only some people are capable of teaching.

However, the reality is that no one teaches anyone, they help others learn. Learning is a skill that can be studied and deconstructed. Best of all, everyone has the capacity to learn, with or without a “great” teacher.

In decision-making, you can focus on helping others learn core concepts. For example, how to choose the best outcome, weighing different options and thinking through potential obstacles. You don’t need to have an advanced degree in philosophy or statistics. You just need to give others confidence in their learning abilities.

Remind your team members—and yourself—that decision-making is a skill that can be learned. If you try to create the next Mozart, your odds of succeeding are low. However, if you try to help someone learn to play the piano, your odds are high. 

Don’t Bury Talent

The worst part of not helping your team make better decisions is that you’re burying talent. Michael Lewis has talked about the L6 concept which is where you have deep expertise buried six levels within an organization. Someone knows the right answer but they are too far down to communicate with the management team.

Great leaders recognize that there are layers within their teams, rich in talent. You make most out of that talent by giving them the power to make decisions. Without that power, that talent will be wasted.

As an executive, you’re not paid to make big decisions. You’re paid to get results and sometimes, the best way to do that is by letting others make the decisions.

You Can’t Do It All

The marketing executive in my story is trying to do it all. His problem is that he is quite capable and perhaps has superhuman decision-making talent. He is Mozart, unable to see that while he can play the piano unlike few other people, he would go farther by working with others.

Don’t fall into the same trap. Focus on a great process, instead of great people. Help someone learn without worrying about teaching. Worst of all, don’t bury talent. Let talent grow and make its own decisions.

Photo by Annie Spratt

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