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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

12 Aug '11

Critical Decisions

Many would be leaders relish the fact that they make fast decisions. They believe that quick and decisive decision making is the mark of a leader. It might be for a general in war time but apart from those situations that require immediate action, the best decisions are not made fast. In fact, the more significant the decision, the slower it should be made. Here are some components of good decision making.

When making critical decisions, good leaders think grey for a period of time. Grey thinking is thinking through options, listening to opinions and evaluating consequences without forming a conclusion until one needs to. It is the discipline of not forming a conclusion until one must in order to provide the time to gather information, listen to council and understand the implications. When thinking grey, leaders are not lobbying for a position with others, rather they are listening and evaluating.


Good leaders don't make critical decisions alone. The bring the best minds to the table to talk through options and come to a common conclusion. This may mean several or even many rounds of discussion until there is consensus that it is time to move forward and there is agreement on the direction. This runs counter to the "Captain and Commander" version of leadership where like the captain in the film, the leader makes unilateral decisions. The fact is that great leaders keep themselves and their organizations out of trouble by collaboration on critical decisions.

One of the key reasons for collaboration in is that there is likely to be push back from someone who does not agree with the direction. A leader does not want to be hanging out alone when that happens. He/she wants to have a guiding coalition of those who have been involved, agree with the direction and will help communicate and defend it. 


Good leaders seek to understand the positive and negative consequences of critical decisions. They think through who will be affected, who is likely to push back and why, what questions will be asked, and especially what the unintended consequences will be. This is why thinking grey and collaboration are so important. Greater clarity comes over time as these issues are considered.


Good leaders make critical decisions a matter of prayer. God has information we don't have and He may choose to speak into our thinking - generally He does if asked. 


Good leaders seek to come to the greatest clarity possible on why a certain decision has been made and how it will be communicated so that there is the best understanding and the greatest buy in - even if the decision has negative consequences for some which often they do. Lack of clarity creates confusion and confusion around a critical decision is deadly. Clarity comes best in collaboration as various people look at both the decision and the proposed communication through their particular lens. Quick decisions are far more likely to create questions and confusion than taking the time to do due diligence.

Because decisions impact people, good leaders think through the process of communicating that decision. This often means talking to those impacted before communicating to the organization as a whole. Process can be as important as the decision itself because a poorly thought through process is likely to create either confusion or push back from those who don't like the decision and divert the conversation to the process rather than the decision itself. 


A key part of thinking through communication is to anticipate questions and reactions and seek to address them up front to the extent that this is possible. Included are not just the intellectual questions people may have but the emotions that the decision may elicit. Critical decisions are as much about managing emotions as they are about information. 


Finally, good leaders create venues for dialogue and discussion in the aftermath of critical decisions. The best written explanations cannot substitute for face to face discussion with those who desire it. Remember that what you have been processing for some time may come as a surprise and shock to those who hear it for the first time. They need the same processing as you did only they must process after the fact.


Critical decisions impact people and good leaders care deeply about the people they lead. Thus they pay the time and attention to major decisions that will impact the organization and its staff.