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Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

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The Need To Test Opinions Against the Facts

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womanonscreen

In addition to investigating new possibilities, effective leaders tend to possess an investigative mindset. Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) stated, “Sit down before the facts with an open mind. Be prepared to give up every preconceived notion. Follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads, or you learn nothing. Don’t push out figures when facts are going in the opposite direction.”

Peter Drucker described Alfred Sloan (General Motors) in The Effective Executive. Sloan, was anything but an ‘intuitive’ decision-maker. He always emphasized the need to test opinions against facts and the need to make absolutely sure that one did not start out with the conclusion and then look for the facts that would support it. But he knew that the right decision demands adequate disagreement.” [i]

Meg Whitman (eBay) noted, “My job was to uncover what was going well. I think sometimes when a new senior executive comes into a company, the instinctive thing to do is to find out what’s wrong and fix it. That doesn’t actually work very well. People are very proud of what they’ve created, and it just feels like you are second-guessing them all the time. You are much more successful coming in and finding out what’s going right and nurturing that. Along the way, you’ll find out what’s going wrong and fix that.” [ii]

Other effective leaders used other specific techniques that were extremely beneficial and fruitful, including probing for answers. Irwin Miller (Cummins) was noted for this attribute. “He was a teacher, not by providing answers, but by asking tough questions. On many occasions his question ‘Ten years from now, what will you wish you had done differently today?’ caused business colleagues, community leaders, friends, and family members to reassess their points of view and reach for higher goals. If you came to tell him what you had already done, he always simply asked, ‘Did you do the right thing?’ [iii]

Andy Grove (Intel) was also a tough questioner, with an equally strong purpose behind it. “Andy will test his staff endlessly… If someone makes a suggestion, he’ll ask, ‘How would you do that?’ Andy wants answers that are well thought out. Gut feel doesn’t cut it with him. His test is: ‘How would you implement it?’ . . . And he challenges his staff to convince him that a particular direction is the right way to go.’

In some organizations, taking such a rigorous approach and insisting that people be prepared to thoroughly defend their ideas might discourage timid subordinates from offering suggestions – and thus stifle creative thinking. But Grove insists that isn’t really an issue.

‘If it discourages you,’ he says, ‘then you probably had a poor idea that you didn’t have much confidence in – or you are the kind of person who wouldn’t execute the idea anyway. If you can’t be expected to fill out the details of your concept, how can you be expected to execute it? It is almost a test: Do you really believe in your idea well enough to defend it? And, if you are given a go-ahead, will you have enough devotion to it – a serious enough commitment to it – to make it happen?’

Clearly, Andy Grove understands how to make things happen, which helps to explain why Intel has played such a major role in shaping the digital world of the future.’ [iv]

William Blackie (Caterpillar) used his own power of observation to investigate the facts prior to making key decisions. During the post-Second World War years, replete with growth opportunities for Caterpillar, Blackie didn’t make his decisions in some comfortable office. He went out in the field to see for himself and advised others to do the same – even though doing so in the postwar years wasn’t comfortable.

‘Seeing the changes and their effects creates more conviction than being told about it or reading about it,’ he told Iron Age. ‘Therefore, one of the first things I urge any interested or skeptical U.S. businessman to do is to go abroad himself to see what’s going on.’”[v]


[i]  Wartzman Rick, GM: Lessons from the Alfred Sloan Era (Business Week, June 12, 2009)

[ii]  Fisherman Charles, Face Time with Meg Whitman (Fast Company, April 30, 201)

[iii]  Miller Will, Joseph Irwin Miller. 26 May 1909 – 16 August 2004 (The American Philosophical Society, Vol. 150, No. 3, September 2006)

[iv]  Sheridan John H., 1997 Technology Leader of the Year Andy Grove: Building an Information Age Legacy (Industry Week, April 19-21, 2010)

[v]  Schleier Curt, William Blackie Put Caterpillar On An Upward Path Expand Your Horizons: The CEO Steered The Machinery Company’s Business All Over The Globe And Dug Up Massive Sale (Investor’s Business Daily, February 2, 2002)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

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Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Visionary Leaders Are in a Different Class

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Leaders are continually facing situations of constant change and adaptation. Creating and implementing a vision helps them determine ways to overcome associated roadblocks, hindrances and employee resistance.

As employees and leaders alike are typically subjected to a broad range of external and internal pressures, leaders are faced with the challenge of creating an appropriate or “right” vision, then persuading various categories of employees—from avid supporters to procrastinators and laggards—to accept the vision and work toward its fulfillment.

A carefully crafted leadership vision provides the means to generate new and more flexible ways of working and thinking as a group. It enables leaders to set a specific organizational course of direction, then pursue it by selecting, equipping and training employees focused on the mission and its objectives to carry it out.

Defining, selling and emphasizing the vision motivates employees to willingly and enthusiastically expend personal, emotional, and physical energy in its pursuit. Specific organizational goals and objectives are accepted and embraced because employees have “bought in” to the vision.

A leader achieves this needed influence by displaying a servant attitude and modest stance while conveying a “prophetic and profound vision of the future.” The vision and its associated direction are presented in clear terms that resonate with employee beliefs and values.

Related: Attaining Organizational Results Requires Visionary Thinking and Planning on Multiple Levels

Once this takes place, employees begin to understand and interpret “the future” in the context of present actions and steps.

During the process, the leader presents his or her vision in contrast to the present status and state of the organization. Through the use of critical thinking skills, insight, intuition, active listening and positive discourse, the leader is able to facilitate and draw out employee opinions and beliefs.

This process allows employees to move from ambiguity toward clarity of understanding, which helps them to develop shared insights that result in influencing them to see the future state of the organization as a desirable condition worth committing to.

The leader begins to move the vision forward in an ethical and productive way, which implies seeking out what constitutes “the greater good” in regard to his or her employees.

During this process the leader constantly emphasizes how and why the employees will be better off as a result of open and positive leadership interaction.

The leader is then able to achieve higher levels of trust and commitment to the vision as he or she seeks personal growth, renewal, and increased stamina through these positive leader-employee interactions.

A Visionary Leader Is Set Apart from Others

Visionary leaders are in a different class than traditional mission-focused leaders. They seem to sense the unknowable, which includes seeing others’ unique talents and abilities. These tend to influence the decisions the leader makes, and help him or her shape a better plan for the future.

Leaders with vision are outstanding “conceptualizers,” nurturing their own and others’ abilities to dream and think beyond the ordinary and day-to-day limitations. They motivate across generational boundaries to enable employee groups to learn and embrace change.

As individual work environments often directly affect employee capabilities, visionary leaders know they can and should affect employee perceptions as to their own personal capabilities. An outcome of this process is that the leader can more fully prepare and build employee followers to accomplish what they are capable of and beyond.

The building up of employee followers results in the leader knowing their capabilities to the point where enhanced trust empowers them to accomplish necessary organizational tasks, assignments and projects.

Related: When Motivating Employees, Expectations Are Everything

Visionary Leaders Are Motivators

Leaders with vision are extremely capable of motivating and instilling a sense of vision “buy-in,” desire, commitment and determination in their employees.

They have the innate ability to engage others in their direction. They also tend to be masters of determining their employees’ true capacities, which can be used to help seek out and overcome optimal challenges.

Inspiring the vision implies rallying employees to acknowledge a common purpose and path of direction in its behalf. Employees become motivated to behave in particular, positive ways. This true sense of motivation does not spring from external rewards or threats, but internally from individual desires of job and personal satisfaction.

Intrinsic motivation results in generating a sense of pleasure while interacting with others as well as while engaged in necessary jobs, projects and tasks.

Related: Building Employee Support Requires Interactive Leadership

Becoming a More Visionary Leader

Visionary leaders tend to transcend organizational expectations as well as the goals they set for themselves and their employees.

Leaders can become more forward-thinking, craft an inspiring vision and make it a reality by adhering to the following tips and strategies:

  • Generate movement by focusing on what is in the best interests of their employees from a long-term standpoint.
  • Motivate employees into action and commitment by satisfying their basic human needs.
  • Talk in terms of dreams and possibilities that work to inspire the vision.
  • Think in terms of a broader organizational view, as well as why it is important to forge a new territory of organizational direction.
  • Remain farsighted while working in shorter steps that focus on generating small successful outcomes.
  • Work to inspire employees to do things without actually sitting on top of them with a checklist in hand.
  • Integrate employee ideas to foster ownership in the vision.
  • Maintain the ability to see objectively and in an unbiased manner.
  • Do the right thing in all circumstances and situations.
  • Keep up with future trends and how they will effect the organization.
  • Make consistent and effective contributions to work tasks and team projects.
  • Continually inspire employee followers through speeches and pep talks that get them to work toward the vision.

Excerpt: Creating & Sustaining a Strong Vision: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series by Timothy Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

The Art of Becoming a Leader

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Managers who lead seek out opportunities, evaluate their potential and take decisive action to either pursue them or not. In order to involve employees in the process and instill a sense of unified, collective effort, managers depend upon their personally consistent, determined and trustworthy leadership styles.

Leadership styles should not be confused with attitudes. Some managers adhere to restrictive and bureaucratic styles to compel employees to produce results. They are unable to tolerate failure and mistakes. The resulting attitudes they display suggest that they believe no one else in the work environment is as important, indispensable and powerful as they are.

Managers as leaders work with and through their employees. They use their leadership skills to identify opportunities and motivate their department or unit members to achieve increased results through appropriate and decisive action.

Related: Four Primary Leadership Roles and Responsibilities

All leaders tend to develop their own individual, comfortable ways of getting things done. Some managers believe their styles reflect how they personally act and respond, when in fact they are simply based on how they prefer to function within roles, assignments and responsibilities. Though leadership styles vary, all have specific elements that ultimately define success or the lack thereof.

This is important for managers desiring to become effective leaders. Successful leaders employ a results-oriented style that both motivates individual employees to stretch their abilities and communicates a passion for the accomplishment of their vision. More importantly, effective styles incorporate specific elements to ensure leadership success.

Managers who desire to become effective organizational leaders need to develop comfortable individualized styles for achieving results and actualizing their visions. This includes:

Related: The Person in Charge Must Be Concerned About the Details

Being Continually Prepared

Most organizations are experiencing rapid changes due to the thrust of technology and volatile market conditions. Traditional supervising managers often tend to wait for events to occur and conditions to change before taking action. Consequently they are always a step or two removed from being on top of things and taking control of situations. This results in an ongoing series of reactionary moves and positioning strategies.

Leaders, on the other hand, make it a point to anticipate trends and economic conditions and are always prepared to make a move once they sense the timing is right. They are prepared to take the necessary steps to address challenges head on, and have defined specific ways to meet them. They don’t wait for conditions to improve or opportunities to open up before they begin to pursue their course.

Related: Formulating Questions as a Source of Continuous Improvement

Continually Acquiring Knowledge

Managers who lead understand the need for continuous learning and the ongoing search for professional knowledge. They know that knowledge combined with expertise turns risks into acceptable opportunities.

While many people tend to judge managers’ actions as peril-ridden and hazardous, in reality most are averse to risk taking. They take great care to explore all opportunities and carefully analyze and calculate all involved risk factors. Leaders only move when they know the risks involved are minimized, and that the odds of obtaining positive outcomes are in their favor. What appears to be venturesome behavior is actually decisive action, as they only act on their evaluations and analysis after they have reviewed all the facts.

Related: Use These Seven Strategies to Respond to Change

Seeking Out All Available Opportunities

Opportunities can take different forms, not all of which are obvious or readily observable. Careful tracking of industry and economic trends produces indicators of future behavior that may present lucrative openings. Always on the alert for subtle opportunities, they make it a point to anticipate, prepare for, and take advantage of each one when the time is right.

Using Appropriate Timing Factors

Managers are decisive in their actions—not rash. Before specific actions are taken, great care is taken to observe trends and opportunities and weigh them to determine appropriate and effective timing factors. If mistakes are made in timing, judgments are generally not far off. This is an important element in market-sensitive, volatile times.

Making Hard Choices

Managers understand that opportunity is often accompanied by difficult choices. Rapid changes in market or customer conditions may require them to make choices that directly shift focus and resources to more profitable departmental pursuits and away from certain activities or existing methods that produce languishing or diminishing results or profitability.

Related: The Sheer Power of a Leader’s Personal Determination

Developing Persuasive Ambition

Managers who lead have an inexhaustible drive that allows them to take control of situations and events in order to make things happen. Their ambition is limited only by their vision of the things that can be accomplished and how they can go about achieving them. Their foresight is not viewed from a personal standpoint, but is based upon overall cooperative employee effort. Managers are always looking for ways to motivate and make things happen through persuasive, determined and passionate leadership.

Sharpening Intuition

Leaders develop a heightened sense of intuition that assists them in identifying trends and opportunities. Their intuition is fine-tuned through personal experiences and by learning from the successes and failures of others.

Related: “Leaders Should Set a Clear and Decisive Tone at the Top”

Being Decisive

Action-oriented by nature, managers who lead are proactive rather than reactive. Neither rash nor indiscriminate, they use objective facts, input, and evaluative processes as well as their intuition to spot trends and possible opportunities. Once they determine that the odds of obtaining positive results from specific opportunities are in their favor, they take immediate action to pursue them.

Excerpt: Leadership: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 16.95 USD

If you are seeking proven expertise and best practices effective leadership practices to train or educate your employees to solve problems and improve their performance in this area, refer to Leadership: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series.Click here to learn more.

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreward Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog | Catalog | 800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

The Need To Test Opinions Against the Facts

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Alfred Sloan

In addition to investigating new possibilities, effective leaders tend to possess an investigative mindset. Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) stated, “Sit down before the facts with an open mind. Be prepared to give up every preconceived notion. Follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads, or you learn nothing. Don’t push out figures when facts are going in the opposite direction.”

Peter Drucker described Alfred Sloan (General Motors) in The Effective Executive. Sloan, was anything but an ‘intuitive’ decision-maker. He always emphasized the need to test opinions against facts and the need to make absolutely sure that one did not start out with the conclusion and then look for the facts that would support it. But he knew that the right decision demands adequate disagreement.” [i]

Meg Whitman (eBay) noted, “My job was to uncover what was going well. I think sometimes when a new senior executive comes into a company, the instinctive thing to do is to find out what’s wrong and fix it. That doesn’t actually work very well. People are very proud of what they’ve created, and it just feels like you are second-guessing them all the time. You are much more successful coming in and finding out what’s going right and nurturing that. Along the way, you’ll find out what’s going wrong and fix that.” [ii]

Other effective leaders used other specific techniques that were extremely beneficial and fruitful, including probing for answers. Irwin Miller (Cummins) was noted for this attribute. “He was a teacher, not by providing answers, but by asking tough questions. On many occasions his question ‘Ten years from now, what will you wish you had done differently today?’ caused business colleagues, community leaders, friends, and family members to reassess their points of view and reach for higher goals. If you came to tell him what you had already done, he always simply asked, ‘Did you do the right thing?’ [iii]

Andy Grove (Intel) was also a tough questioner, with an equally strong purpose behind it. “Andy will test his staff endlessly… If someone makes a suggestion, he’ll ask, ‘How would you do that?’ Andy wants answers that are well thought out. Gut feel doesn’t cut it with him. His test is: ‘How would you implement it?’ . . . And he challenges his staff to convince him that a particular direction is the right way to go.’

In some organizations, taking such a rigorous approach and insisting that people be prepared to thoroughly defend their ideas might discourage timid subordinates from offering suggestions – and thus stifle creative thinking. But Grove insists that isn’t really an issue.

‘If it discourages you,’ he says, ‘then you probably had a poor idea that you didn’t have much confidence in – or you are the kind of person who wouldn’t execute the idea anyway. If you can’t be expected to fill out the details of your concept, how can you be expected to execute it? It is almost a test: Do you really believe in your idea well enough to defend it? And, if you are given a go-ahead, will you have enough devotion to it – a serious enough commitment to it – to make it happen?’

Clearly, Andy Grove understands how to make things happen, which helps to explain why Intel has played such a major role in shaping the digital world of the future.’ [iv]

William Blackie (Caterpillar) used his own power of observation to investigate the facts prior to making key decisions. During the post-Second World War years, replete with growth opportunities for Caterpillar, Blackie didn’t make his decisions in some comfortable office. He went out in the field to see for himself and advised others to do the same – even though doing so in the postwar years wasn’t comfortable.

‘Seeing the changes and their effects creates more conviction than being told about it or reading about it,’ he told Iron Age. ‘Therefore, one of the first things I urge any interested or skeptical U.S. businessman to do is to go abroad himself to see what’s going on.’”[v]

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It by Timothy F. Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about the critical and investigative thinking of the great American leaders through their own inspiring words and stories, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills. Click here to learn more.

________________________________________________________________________
Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It
and What You Can Learn From It
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog | Catalog| 800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved


[i]  Wartzman Rick, GM: Lessons from the Alfred Sloan Era (Business Week, June 12, 2009)

[ii]  Fisherman Charles, Face Time with Meg Whitman (Fast Company, April 30, 201)

[iii]  Miller Will, Joseph Irwin Miller. 26 May 1909 – 16 August 2004 (The American Philosophical Society, Vol. 150, No. 3, September 2006)

[iv]  Sheridan John H., 1997 Technology Leader of the Year Andy Grove: Building an Information Age Legacy (Industry Week, April 19-21, 2010)

[v]  Schleier Curt, William Blackie Put Caterpillar On An Upward Path Expand Your Horizons: The CEO Steered The Machinery Company’s Business All Over The Globe And Dug Up Massive Sale (Investor’s Business Daily, February 2, 2002)

Book Review: GREAT! What Makes Leaders Great

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The pre-publication popularity of the best-selling book Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is testament to the fact that the reading public is dazzled by great business leaders. While that book delves into the life and leadership of one iconic entrepreneur, GREAT! by Timothy Bednarz offers insight into the stories of 160 influential American leaders (not all from business). The book provides both historical context and a fresh perspective by drawing insightful conclusions about characteristics the leaders have in common.

Bednarz begins by identifying key factors of success that are reprised in later chapters. The second chapter establishes the platform for the broad approach of the book by summarizing the large number of operations (automotive, banking, e-commerce, industrial production, and innovation, to name a few) that have been transformed by the leaders spoken of in the text.

In subsequent chapters, the author addresses what these leaders have in common. The categories are quite general—for example, impact, motivation, character—but Bednarz uses them effectively to relate successful people from different types of careers and from different times. In a chapter titled “CAPABILITIES: The Masters of Their Universe,” Bednarz quotes Fred Smith of Federal Express, Admiral Hyman Rickover of the US Navy, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, Estée Lauder of Estée Lauder, and Steve Jobs of Apple, among others. Snippets about such diverse leaders are included under the following subheadings: Persistence, High Degrees of Confidence, Intuition, Curious and Investigative Thinkers, and Masters of Knowledge and Expertise.

At the end of the book, Bednarz summarizes the key findings of the extensive research he conducted on the 160 individuals. He offers fourteen generalizations that provide keen insight into fundamental leadership traits, such as the following: “The great leaders generated enduring organizational values that mirrored their personal attitudes, values, thinking and work ethics.” Bednarz provides an appendix that explains the methodology he used in his research. He also lists other leaders he considered but did not choose for his study.

GREAT! is a fascinating, scrupulously documented work that weaves together the stories of great leaders in a readable format. While a few readers may balk at the rapid-fire delivery that incorporates a sometimes dizzying number of leaders into each chapter, Bednarz does a superb job of structuring the text into meaningful sections. Ultimately, GREAT! is a brilliantly conceived and cohesive work—a unique book about leadership that extends far beyond the business genre.

Barry Silverstein

Published by ForeWard Reviews – January, 2012 as a ForeWard Clarion Review

Copyright © 2012 ForeWord Reviews, Used with Permission

Read a Sample Chapter

The Value of Personal Experience and Expertise

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Admiral Hyman Rickover on an Inspection Tour

The value of experience and expertise in evaluating potential risks cannot be overstated. As has been previously addressed, the great leaders endured a “crucible period” of disappointment, frustration, failure and adversity. These shaped their experiences and expertise and prepared them to adequately assess risks that were placed before them.

A case in point of this was J.P. Morgan (J.P. Morgan Bank). “There can be no doubt that Morgan was a dreamer, occupying his time thinking of grand schemes and larger than life business deals. But, he never lost himself in the clouds. He knew that in order to achieve success on the scale that he dreamed of, he needed to take practical and concrete steps in that direction. Thus, through education and taking on junior positions at investment firms and banking houses, Morgan took the time he needed to gain the experience that would enable him to realize his dreams.” [1]

J.C. Penney (J.C. Penney) observed, “The greatest misfortune that can befall a man is to be placed in an advanced position without having earned the experience below it. Business progress is like climbing a ladder. It must be ascended rung by rung.” [2]

Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) having built the U.S. nuclear navy, while directly interviewing and hiring over 10,000 officers during his career asserted, “A cause of many of our mistakes and problems is ignorance.” [3] He stated in a 1981 speech at the Columbia University School of Engineering, “Our factories and companies are increasingly being bought, sold, and operated by professional administrators, lawyers, and financial experts who have little understanding of their products, the technology involved, or the needs of customers. As these professional ‘managers’ reach top corporate positions, others emulate them and avoid technical education in favor of management studies. In my opinion, our universities should emphasize the importance of a solid grounding in substantive learning and downgrade so-called management science. What it takes to do a job will not be learned from management courses. It is principally a matter of experience, the proper attitude, and common sense – none of which can be taught in a classroom.” [4]

The lessons extracted from experience and expertise is vital in the task of assessing risks. Individuals intuitively seem to know exactly where the roadblocks and detours are and how to avoid them. They possess the wisdom to understand the consequences of past mistakes and faulty decisions and utilize the knowledge gained to their advantage.

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about the value of experience and expertise of the great American leaders through their own inspiring words and stories, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved


[1]  Carmichael Evan, How He Built an Empire: J.P. Morgan’s Success Factors (evancarmichael.com)

[2]  Penney J.C., Lines of a Layman (Channel Press, Great Neck, NY, 1956) p. 105

[3]  Admiral Rickover H.C., Thoughts on Man’s Purpose in Life (speech presented at the San Diego Rotary Club, 1977)

[4]  Admiral Rickover H.C., Doing a Job (management philosophy speech at Columbia University School of Engineering, 1981; CoEvolution Quarterly, 1982)

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

November 29, 2011 at 11:09 am

The Four Stages of Effective Decision Making

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In order to thoroughly identify, assess and select a “best choice” alternative from among a variety of potential solutions, it is essential to understand how to utilize the various stages of decision making in a manner that accommodates creative insight and thought.

Decision-making is most powerful when combined with logical, intuitive and creative mental processing. The stages used at specific points in the decision making and problem solving processes are well suited to group settings but are equally applicable to individual situations.

Tunnel vision is the biggest obstacle to problem identification during the decision making process. Tunnel vision often leads to artificial restrictions on the search for alternatives because it leads to a problem being defined too narrowly.

In order to prevent tunnel vision and maintain focus on the main problem, four decision-making stages and their individual steps should be followed in the specific order outlined below. Careful execution of these stages will help generate the best solution for an existing problem.

The Contribution Stage

The goal of the contribution stage is to gain a better understanding of the existing problem and the specific circumstances surrounding it.

Before doing anything, the decision making group must identify the problem and state it clearly and concisely. The idea at this point is to understand and maintain a focus on the decision-making or problem solving process and its purpose.

The identification of a problem consists of not only describing it accurately, precisely and in detail but also addressing the possible gaps that exist between current perceptions of the situation and desired outcomes.

The following are four typical gaps that indicate a decision has to be made soon:

  • Something needs to be adjusted or corrected because a current method, procedure, action or practice is insufficient to produce the desired results.
  • Something needs to be prevented because of a possible threat or negative influence.
  • Something is appealing, engaging or interesting and needs to be acknowledged, received or accepted.
  • Something needs to be provided because an element seems to be missing, ignored or unidentified.

Step One: Brainstorming

To initiate effective brainstorming, group members should either individually or collectively write down possible solutions to the problem at hand with all alternatives objectively considered. It is important to brainstorm extensively in order to expand and build upon the ideas generated.

Once the brainstorming session has run its course, the group can begin classifying, categorizing, and prioritizing issues surrounding the problem. The goal is to create a hierarchy of issues and factors based on how essential each is to achieving a particular solution.

Step Two: Criteria

During this step, the group develops the criteria to evaluate possible alternatives for resolving the problem or situation. It is important to categorize criteria as either “essential” for a successful solution or simply “desired.”

When the criteria are being developed, the group should establish boundaries, acceptable alternatives and important values or feelings that need to be considered, as well as certain results that should be avoided.

Once ideas are generated, the criteria need to again be objectively considered. Important criteria should be categorized, with the group making a preliminary selection to be used throughout the process. It should be noted that these criteria will probably need to be modified as other important facts and information come to light.

Step Three: Fact Gathering

This step focuses on gathering information and facts that are relevant to making a decision. It is a critical component in clarifying the aforementioned perceived gaps.

Quality is more important than quantity when gathering information. Too much information can confuse and complicate the decision making process.

Brainstorming can again be used at this point. Facts should be classified and categorized so as to clarify the connection between various elements of information. The goal is to establish patterns and relationships among the facts.

All considered information must be analyzed in terms of the group’s problem statement and evaluation criteria; any non-pertinent facts should be eliminated. Relevant information and associated patterns should be prioritized by applicability to the problem at hand, and additional facts collected later if necessary.

The Procedural Stage

The group must actively develop, evaluate, and select alternatives and solutions to solve the identified problem.

Step One: Development

It is important to create alternatives over the entire range of acceptable options outlined in the contribution stage. At this stage the process needs to be free, open, and unconcerned with feasibility. This activity should ensure that nonstandard and creative alternatives are generated. Once again, the brainstorming technique can be used effectively, allowing participants to quickly record and share results without partiality and to use the input to develop additional alternatives.

A number of brainstorming methods such as “challenging assumptions,” the “random word technique,” and “taking another’s perspective” can be used to generate more creative alternatives. Alternatives that appear unworthy of further consideration need to be eliminated.

It is possible to categorize or classify alternatives and consider them as a group, but care should be taken not to create categories that are too complex, unmanageable or cumbersome. If the group shows dissatisfaction with the quantity or quality of alternatives under consideration, a break may be beneficial in order to renew the group and inject more objectivity and fresh insight into the process.

Step Two: Evaluate

A list of specific advantages, disadvantages, and interesting aspects for each alternative should be shared, discussed and recorded. After eliminating alternatives that are clearly outside the bounds and parameters of the stated criteria, these advantages and disadvantages should be considered in more detail.

An analysis of existing relationships among alternatives should also be completed, which can be done by asking, “Is an advantage of one a disadvantage for another?” At this point, serious consideration should be given to the relative importance of advantages and disadvantages.

Only those alternatives that the majority of the group considers to be relevant and correct should be given further consideration.

Step Three: Developing a Solution

For relatively simple problems, one alternative may clearly be the “best choice” solution. However, in more complex situations, combining several alternatives may be more effective. A distinct advantage of this process is that—if previous steps have been completed thoroughly and with attention to detail—selecting a solution becomes far less complicated.

Before completing this stage it is important to diagnose possible problems with the selected solution and determine the implications of these potential problems. This means asking the question, “What could go wrong and why?” When developing a solution, it is important to discuss the worst-case scenario that could come about if the solution is implemented.

The Implementation Stage

During this stage, a plan with which to put the selected solution into action is created. The plan must be highly detailed to allow for successful implementation.

Methods of evaluation must also be considered and developed. When developing a plan, the major phases of implementation are considered first, with steps necessary for each phase outlined. It is often helpful to construct a timeline and diagram the most important steps in the implementation process. “Backward planning” and task analysis techniques can be useful during this stage.

The plan should be implemented as carefully and completely as possible, with minor modifications often needed.

The Reflection Stage

The final decision making stage—reflection—is comprised of three steps.

Step One: Assess Implementation

Once initially undertaken, this step should be ongoing.
The group needs to decide how to determine “completeness of implementation” prior to evaluating the implemented solution’s effectiveness.

The fact that this step is often ignored or omitted is one of the main reasons decision making and problem solving processes fail: it often never becomes apparent that the selected solution is simply not being effectively implemented.

Step Two: Evaluate Solution’s Effectiveness

It is particularly important to evaluate outcomes in light of the problem statement generated at the beginning of the process. Affective, cognitive and behavioral results should also be considered, especially if they have been identified as important criteria. The solution should be judged according to its overall efficiency and impact on the people involved.

Step Three: Modification

When necessary, the solution should be modified according to suggestions generated during the previous step, as evaluation often brings additional problems to light that will need to be considered and addressed by the group. Issues identified that focus on implementation efficiency and effectiveness should be targeted.

Excerpt: Intelligent Decision Making: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011) $ 18.95 USD

If you would like to learn more about effective decision making techniques, refer to Intelligent Decision Making: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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