Sometimes, I make bad decisions. I hate it, but I still do it. Not intentionally, of course. But for any number of reasons, my batting average is far less than perfect. Now, I feel better having stated the obvious; however, this post is about a slightly different view of this issue – how do you keep your boss from making a bad decision?
One of the techniques some Native Americans used to hunt buffalo was to identify the head buffalo, the alpha male (a.k.a. the leader) and run him off a cliff - the rest of the herd would follow.
For years, I kept the photograph above in my office as a reminder of several important leadership lessons. It also sparked many conversations with my team. I would always say, "If you see me about to run off a cliff, please try to stop me." I think that's one way we can all add value to our leaders.
I’ve been in one organization for over three decades and other than a few periods of transition, I’ve really only reported to two people. Thankfully, both of these leaders made a lot of really good decisions. But, as you might guess, they weren’t perfect; they, too, were human. When I saw an impending train wreck, I tried to help. How about you?
Do you believe you should try to stop a bad decision before it’s made? Some of you may be thinking if my boss screws up, maybe I can get his/her job. Bad idea. I don’t think you’ll build a career letting your boss fail. I think you can build a career on helping your boss be successful. This includes helping them make good decisions.
When you see your boss headed in the wrong direction, I believe you should try to INFLUENCE the decision. Translated, that means, change the decision before it is made.
I’ve not discovered a magic formula for doing this. However, I have learned a few things.
Be specific. What exactly are you trying to influence or change and why? What are the potential consequences if this decision fails? Be prepared to communicate the answers to these questions.
Be thoughtful. The way you influence one person will not universally work with other leaders. Timing also matters. How does your boss like to receive information? Are they a visually oriented leader? Do they want the details? Do they prefer a summary?
Be persistent – If you really believe the decision at hand is not a good one, don’t give up easily. I recently ended a 6-month effort to influence a decision we were about to make. I had many, many, many conversations over those months.
Be respectful – It’s okay for thoughtful, concerned and professional people to disagree. Don’t make it personal. Always show honor, dignity and respect for those with different opinions.
Be helpful – Do you have an alternative? Do you have a suggestion? When trying to influence a decision, always be ready if someone says, “Okay, what would you do?”
When all is said and done, you may not be successful in changing the decision you’re trying to influence. That’s okay too. However, I don’t think your opportunity to add value has passed. If you can’t influence the decision, you can shape it. I’ll share thoughts on that next week.[GLS_Shield]
What decision should you be working to influence?