Cello_Decision_MakingThis past week has been an interesting one in terms of decision making as a topic of dialog.

I found an Orchestra Leadership Lesson from my high school experience to be a great analogy to share to debunk the notion that one can abdicate decision making to a new domain coined “decision coach.”

One thread which sparked last week’s post, proposed the need for a “Decision Coach” as a new role to serve the CEO, and even went so far as to suggest that a new engineering science was emerging around Decision Making.

In A Leader’s Job Description

In the thread, I held fast to a simple fact that Decision Making is a function very clearly identified as a requirement on any leader or CEO’s job description.

I posted this comment as the thread continued to spin between the leaders that knew their roles included decision making, and those that were looking for a way to offload the pressure.

ANDREW STEIN […] I cherish my copy of The New Rational Manager. Sad to see it’s now $1.70 used, on Amazon. Then, perhaps, it’s only a matter of time before it is democratized in the Google Books project for everyone’s benefit.

My between the lines read of Kepner and Tragoe taught me not to abdicate decision making. Do it, learn from mistakes, and do it again. Practice improves the skill.

My high school cello teacher Ms. Balderson, taught me that I could not have someone else practice for me, and ever expect to increase my skill, perform well under pressure, or expect to lead the cello section or be respected by the rest of the orchestra.

Of the four types of decision making (authoritative, consultative, delegated and consensus), there is a fine line separating “delegating” or “consulting” to increase one’s readiness to make a decision, and fundamentally abdicating the decision making responsibility altogether.

Decision Coach Snake Oil

Calling a consultant a “decision coach,” is just confusing. If you need a consultant with expertise you don’t have, then call in a consultant that has credentialed expertise. A vanilla decision coach will not have credentialed expertise in a particular domain. At best, a decision coach is a project manager. If you need a project manager, get a project manager to handle the details, tasks and timelines.

Creating an arbitrary and new role, domain, and engineering science for “decision coaching” has dubious merit, ambiguous responsibility – how do you hold this role accountable for performance?

On that line of thought, who does it benefit? First, it benefits the decision coach, giving them a new role to create a fuzzy service business around. Leaders using a decision coach then pay money for a service they cannot measure? If it sounds like snake oil selling, then it might be.

Second, it gives the “leader” using a decision coach, a way to abdicate the responsibility, and create a point of blame for failure. This too is not a good approach. Most incredibly this allows a leader to reduce the practice time he or she has in making decisions, and improving the skill.

Your Executive Team Are Your Coaches

Notwithstanding the obvious cost to pay an external decision coach to project manage; missing from the discussion is the simple second fact that a Board, or other body, has hired leaders to build their team around them to complement their skills with abilities that make a team with full competency. Sure, one needs special consulting for some things that do not warrant a full time member of an executive team (e.g., a merger and acquisition initiative, legal counsel on a specific issue, and so on).

A good leader using “consultative” or “delegated” decision making has built a leadership team around him or her such that they have internal competencies to tap into. Again, if I am sitting on a board, and the CEO suggests that he or she needs to spend cash on a decision coach, I’m quickly drawing the conclusion that the leader in that role has not built a good team around them. And I am also concerned that that person in this leadership position is also a good steward over the funds of the company – both in terms of hiring the team around him or her, but also in terms of the cost of a “decision coach” for an activity that he/she is responsible for doing.

Orchestra Leadership Lesson

As Mrs. Balderson taught me, practice not only improves the skill, but it increases the credibility you earn demonstrating that skill.

It is the key to being first chair in the Cello Section of the orchestra. It is the ticket to gaining the interpretive respect from the other section first chairs (leaders) of the orchestra, and as well, the entire orchestra (analogous with a company’s organization).

Mrs. Balderson also taught that trying to push the envelope, do something different, interpret a piece unlike others before you, shows you are thinking, involved, and not just doing what others tell you will be right, be perceived as right, or for all the wrong reasons, be a way to abdicate doing the hard work.

To Ponder

Like last week’s post on April 14 on “Decision Making: Make them or Take Them, But Just Do It,” today’s post should spark introspection in leaders. Being defensive on this topic, makes one susceptible to snake oil salesman. Ponder internally what that means to you and those around you observing your leadership behavior as abdication. The thoughts here should be introspective so you take action, develop skill, and demonstrate confidence to those around you. The latter is what great leaders do.

Image Credit: nosha via photopin cc

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