We've spent the last several weeks sharpening 2 sets of change leadership skills:
- 1. change leadership skills that are important to develop on a personal level.
- 2. change leadership skills that are needed on a team and organizational level.
We’re now transitioning to the 3rd set of change leadership skills: The change leadership skills you use to help drive change on an industry level.
As we do, we will start by learning about a skill that is often needed both at the organizational level and the industry level: The challenge of driving decisions. Asking for and getting the decisions required to enable the change you are trying to achieve.
So for all of you who've been learning with us over the past weeks, Congratulations! You've learned 2 of the 3 sets of change leadership skills you need to drive change.
Helping others make tough decisions
As a change leader, you will personally have to make tough decisions. However, you will very frequently face situations where you must urge other decision-makers to make tough decisions.
When asking a decision-maker to make a decision, there are 2 realities to recognize
- This decision-maker forms a link between you and a set of impacted stakeholders.
- The decision-maker very likely has to follow a decision-making process designed to give those stakeholders a voice in decisions. (See Further Reading: Decision Processes below)
What you may be advocating for can often be something that gives impacted stakeholders deep concern, which, in turn, can make the decision-maker feel hesitant.
It's one thing for you to confront your own anxieties in order to make a decision. But what about when you are working with other decision-makers who face their own anxieties about a decision that will challenge the status quo?
Getting louder and faster with statistics and arguments won't help in these cases, especially when a decision-maker already feels torn, anxious, or mentally exhausted.
So what will help?
Effective empathy enables decisions
Empathy plays a vital role when partnering and influencing decision-makers: you want to be aware of what they are feeling and thinking as much as possible. Put yourself in your partners' shoes.
When facing a decision that may not sit well with everyone or will result in uncomfortable changes, it's natural for decision-makers to think of worst-case scenarios. This is especially true of highly-competitive or socially-attuned leaders who have learned to be very aware of the perceptions of peers and superiors.
When you lay out your case for making the decision, you can increase your chances of being heard by being aware of the following common concerns:
- What if we miss a huge opportunity or key piece of information by committing to a decision too early?
- Will this decision have negative consequences or side effects that we didn't foresee?
- What will my peers/boss think of me if I back the wrong decision? Could this reduce my credibility in their eyes?
- What is the decision process I have to follow, and will it be worth the time and effort? (See Further Reading: Decision Processes below).
When advocating for an important decision, it's helpful to use language that specifically addresses these concerns. And your language will have more impact if it comes from the heart - and from a true intent to be a partner with them through all stages of this difficult decision. When advocating for change, you need to show up as a partner, not as an attacker. A partner committed to being present and engaged not just at the point where the decision is being made, but after the decision has been made and its time to follow through, execute, manage risk and get to the desired outcome.
Standing at the Precipice: Making the Decision
When decision-makers hesitate at the point of decision they are most likely - even if they don't directly express it - thinking about the worst-case scenario. So you want to help them see things differently by highlighting the positive impacts a decision could have for them and their stakeholders.
For example, you may want to discuss:
- Previous successes and benefits to stakeholders that resulted from capitalizing on unexpected opportunities.
- How sometimes, growth and innovation are only possible by stepping outside of a comfort zone.
- Why long-term benefits will come even if there are challenges on the road to getting there.
- Why making a timely decision often has better outcomes than delaying.
Again remember that this is not just about one person. This is usually about a set of stakeholders. If your persuasion and proposal addresses the concerns of the stakeholders, you're more likely to get the decision that's needed.
Once you've obtained the desired decision
Once the decision has been made, it's time to stop thinking about if the decision was right or wrong. Instead of entertaining discussions of if the decision was right or wrong, you can redirect any lingering anxieties your partners may feel by asking, "How can we make this path the most successful it can be?"
Decisions, at their core, are investments. When you make a decision, you commit to investing focus, time, energy, and money into a specific path. The success of that investment depends as much on the sustained follow-through and partnership as on the initial due diligence.
We make decisions because we need to be focused. Making no decision and staying stuck in an unfocused phase can be worse than making a less-than-perfect decision. Where you end up is not dictated by where you started. Follow through can be a powerful saving grace.
What You've Just Learned
As a change leader, you will face cases where you need to advocate for a decision. For the decision-maker you're working with, it may not be an easy decision. They may feel torn between what you're proposing and what they know about the likely impacts, and the reactions of some stakeholders.
You've just learned how to use effective empathy and a partnership mindset to work effectively with decision-makers; acknowledging the concerns that decision-makers feel, and encouraging them to proceed with a decision even though they may feel very anxious. You now have the tools to help drive difficult decisions that challenge the status quo but lead to better outcomes.
- Decision Rules and Processes: In large-scale industry or government contexts, taking the time to understand how decisions get made can increase your success. See HBR These Strategies Will Help You Influence How Decisions Get Made
Thank you for taking the time to learn about change leadership, the most vital skill of the 21st century! Have a great weekend.
P.S. Get ready for another great Sunday Edition with the top insights and key developments of the week. Where will you read and think this weekend?