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Hip Shots with Nukes and Other Issues in Executive Decision Making

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One of the most challenging aspects of leadership at every level is this very issue of decision making. Dr. Mark Rutland explains.

    One of the most popular lectures I teach at the National Institute of Christian Leadership is based on a graphic I designed. I call this schematic the Risk-Reward Quadrilateral. It's simple really, but seeing it, actually seeing it on the screen, has proven immensely helpful to growing leaders seeking to understand how to make decisions. One of the most challenging aspects of leadership at every level is this very issue of decision making. The constant barrage of decisions demanding answers can be wearing to say the least and downright paralyzing at the worst. 

    I will not try in this brief blog to explain that entire lecture, but here are a few insights. 

I. Don't fire hip shots with nuclear weapons. Inveterate hop shooters, especially those who are the best at it, tend to use hip shots no matter how complex the situation. It is hard for hip shooters to wait, to be patient, to plan, to calculate the risk/reward ratio and make sure they have all the information before squeezing the trigger. 

    I'm not saying the intuitive leader is wrong. Often such a "natural" shootist will hit the target more often than the slow and steady plodder who takes his time. In fact, that is actually the problem. Because the fast gun's aim is so often so very, very accurate, he may very come to believe that is the only kind of shot he should ever attempt. The high collateral damage of a "nuclear" decision fails to slow him down. It never occurs to him that on this one, he should just take a little extra time. 

    The hip shooter who never matures beyond his natural gift, may well decide to plunge his organization into heavy debt with no more research or consideration than if he were deciding whether to paint his office cream or white. Right as often as he is without giving a thought to the consequences, he rushes in where angels fear to tread. 

    Mature leaders, even natural hip shooters, learn that there is a difference between target practice with a pellet gun and intercontinental atomic warfare. High risk decisions often have high rewards, but they are emotionally and intellectually strenuous to hip shooters. Draw, fire, aim may work sometimes, even a lot of times, but not with a multiple warhead ICBM. 

II. While not as dangerous as nuclear hip shooting, leadership in the opposite quadrant is not without its consequences. This is what I call brain freeze at the candy counter. Taking too much time to decide on a Zero bar or a Three Musketeers, is costly as well tedious to everyone else involved. Time is money. Some decisions, while they may not be absolutely obvious, may also be squarely in the low risk/ low reward quadrant. Getting bogged down in that quadrant is counter-productive. In business and leadership today, the large may not eat the small but the fast definitely eat the slow. 

     Some questions just do not deserve much time. Even if you get them wrong, what can it cost?  Likewise, if you get them exactly right the payoff is low. Decide quickly. Unleash your inner intuitive leader. Get on with the big stuff. 

III. Finally, great leaders know they do not need to be making all the decisions. Overcome your tendency to over-control and release your subordinates to make as many decisions as they can. Training them to know what is an appropriate decision for them is a process, not an event. It will take time to empower your leaders to make decisions that have bogged you down in the past. It will also take time to teach them NOT to make decisions that could blow everyone up. 

    Some employees will never master it. Will they occasionally get it wrong? Yes. Will they occasionally do more damage than you thought? Yes. Will you discover, to your horror that you have some on your staff that absolutely lack the decision-making ability? Yes. None of that should deter you. Teach your staff to bring you answers, not questions. Teach them to make decisions AT THE APPROPRIATE LEVEL. Empower them to be problem solvers and decision makers and make your own leadership more productive. 

         For an in-depth discussion on the Risk-Reward Quadrilateral and so much more,  I encourage you to attend The National Institute of Christian Leadership. Drawing from my 40+ years of leadership experience in ministry and business, I have designed this practical, intensive program to equip leaders to navigate their organizations through difficult situations and on to greater possibilities.

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