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There are many skills/capabilities and characteristics that a person needs in order to be an effective manager. To me, any such list should include that a manager:

 1. Consider the possibilities. Critical thinking skills are essential to turn things upside down and inside out to come up with the best possible scenario to solve problems. [Side Note: check out my book summary of "Now You’re Thinking" to see how improving your critical thinking skills can "revolutionize your career and transform you life"]

 2. Be decisive. In order to get things done, someone has to make the final decision!

In terms of critical skills for managers, decision-making should always be at or near the top. A track record of good decisions leads to success for the organization and rewards for the manager. Too many poor decisions and that leader won’t be a leader for long.

In the old-school view of management, the boss was the "decider". Whether the issue was big or small, strategic or tactical, the manager was the sole authority and was expected to make the judgment call. Inputs might be solicited prior to making big decisions, but that was about the extent of employee involvement.

However, today, a more decentralized, agile and team-based approach is required in our increasingly complex world, where change happens at light speed. Added to that is the impact of Millennials in the workforce who have high expectations for engagement and influence on the organization and, rightfully so, are forcing some changes in how managers make decisions.


The result is that the first and most important step a manager should take when faced with a decision is to "decide how to decide". This may sound ponderous at first but, with experience, the process will become easier, quicker, and more intuitive.

In fact, general rules or guidelines can be established in advance and explicitly shared so that everyone’s expectations are better aligned. This, by the way, also factors heavily into shaping the company culture ("how we do things around here"). 

Here are two main questions the manager should ask:

1. At what level in the organization should decisions be made?

Pushing decision-making down to the lowest practical level is an effective approach to speed up the process, increase employee engagement, and improve the delivery of products and services. For example, customer service agents can be authorized to make certain types of discretionary billing accommodations up to a certain dollar amount, on the spot, rather than involving a supervisor each time. Like any act of delegation, the key to success is to clearly define rules, boundaries, and accountability for outcomes.

2. What decision-making method is most appropriate?

The answer to this question is a bit more complicated and requires some definitions:

Individual Decision-Making

Authoritative – The authority (usually conferred by job title but can also be a topical or technical expert) makes the decision solely on their own, using their own parameters and knowledge.

Consultative – The authority gathers ideas from others, evaluates options, and then ultimately makes the decision.

Group Decision-Making

Minority – When a group defers to a sub-set of members who possess specific expertise or knowledge.

Majority – Perhaps the most familiar method of decision-making that entails voting by group members. Variations include simple majority, super-majority or (the very difficult to attain) unanimous vote.

Consensus – Reached when all members of a group can support a decision, typically after extensive discussion, even if it is not their first choice.

No decision-making method is necessarily the best in all circumstances. Each one has its own pros and cons and varies in effectiveness for a situation. Some key considerations include urgency of the issue, the complexity of the issue, the potential impact of the decision, and the level of buy-in needed for successful adoption of the solution.

Armed with this information, a leader can then decide how to decide.

The main ingredient for success is for managers to make conscious and intentional choices about who will make decisions and what method will be used, and then communicate that clearly to their organization. This clarifies the rules of engagement for all. And when the leader also consistently demonstrates that decision-making will be shared as much as possible, that creates a culture of transparency, fairness, and inclusion. Which, in most cases, should lead to better decisions.


Thanks to Diane Janovsky, Strategic Partner at HPISolutions, for her input on this article.