Skip to main content

Leadership and Decision Making

| June 15, 2021

by Amanda Sarratore

Leadership and Decision Making

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Amanda Sarratore, Manager of Academic IT Services at the University of Notre Dame.  She is a MOR alum.  Amanda may be reached at [email protected].]
As the pandemic hit, staff stepped up to embrace change in a radical way, and more than a year later, many are still feeling the impact. Learning to navigate the chaos and uncertainty while hoping for a return to normalcy is a daily challenge. Leadership is needed as much today as in the early days of the pandemic. Navigating the future of work, the sustainability of our current workloads, and the complexity of everyday life can be overwhelming. There is pressure to make effective decisions quickly with the expectation to adjust and adapt as new information is presented.

Recently, I found myself facing a challenging decision with a campus partner area and was struggling with the best way forward. The situation was long-standing and had escalated to the point of being highly political and disruptive to IT operations. I reached out to peers, read articles, and solicited feedback. I couldn’t see a way forward but clearly recognized a change was needed. Was I taking the right approach? Could I trust my experiences and knowledge to help guide me forward? How do we make the best decision for our organization, our team, and ourselves? 

Decision-making is a fundamental component of leadership, and intuition and experience are tools in a leader’s toolkit. David Sweetman, MOR Leadership Coach and Consultant, describes intuition as “sensing patterns and insights faster than our conscious mind can process.” (Sweetman 161) According to research, “the effectiveness of intuitive decision making may relate to the level of expertise one has attained in the matter.” (Dane et al. 188) The more knowledgeable you are in an area and the more you have engaged in intentional, focused practice, the more valuable your “gut reaction” becomes. Your intuition and experiences process the unconscious information rapidly and form it into a holistic viewpoint. Unfortunately, biases can also creep into our decision-making process, along with availability, representativeness, and anchoring, leading to inaccurate conclusions. Less experienced leaders may rely on mental scripts and repetition to make choices, operating on autopilot.

We also need to carefully consider our goals and constraints in making a decision.  Is our goal to satisfice or to maximize? Barry Schwartz, a psychology professor and author of The Paradox of Choice, states, “Maximizers are people who want the very best. Satisficers are people who want good enough.” (Schwartz, 2004) Satisficing is choosing the first workable option, settling on a “good enough” solution, and meeting requirements in a reasonable timeframe. When we satisfice, we do not explore all the possibilities (maximize) but focus on avoiding a mistake and finding a good enough solution.

  • Maximizers: How do we find the best solution? By analyzing every available option before making a decision.
  • Satisficers: How do we find a solution that works? By creating criteria and searching until a solution checks the box.

However, taking time to identify every possibility, collecting the data, weighing each one appropriately, and processing the information logically for every decision is not practical. Herbert Simon introduced the concept of bounded rationality in his work with applied probability theory. Simon states, “Rationality is bounded because there are limits to our thinking capacity, available information, and time.” (Simon, 1955) How do we overcome these challenges without being paralyzed by indecision? Does every choice require an analytical process?
In my MBA program, I learned about an evidence-based approach to decision-making. It empowers leaders to create the conditions that define success through a framework.  As members of the MOR community, we have been introduced to different tools and practices to enhance our leadership perspective and increase our impact. I challenge you to consider these tools through the lens of decision-making:
Decision-Making Framework: Understand, Recognize, Analyze, Decide, and Implement

  1. Understand the specific set of circumstances around the decision, the context through the 3 lenses: strategic, political, and cultural.
    1. Strategic Design: Organizations are machines; action comes through planning.
      1. Action: Identify opportunities and threats
      2. Key process: Grouping, linking, and aligning
    2. Political Interests: Organizations are contests; action comes through power.
      1. Action: Build coalitions, leverage interests, and negotiate
      2. Key Process: Stakeholder Mapping. Who are the stakeholders, and what’s their interest?
    3. Cultural Traditions: Organizations are institutions; action comes through habit.
      1. Action: Articulate vision, build and manage culture
      2. Key Process: Meaning and setting norms. What are the values and strengths of your organization? What unwritten rules would you share with someone new coming into the organization?
  2. Recognize work happens through building relationships; use the 4 I’s: Initiate, Inquire, Invest, and Influence.
    1. Initiate: Begin with communication and be opportunistic.
    2. Inquire: Express a genuine interest and engage.
    3. Invest: Be intentional with your connections.
    4. Influence: Broaden your network and strengthen your connections.
  3. Analyze options with extreme open-mindedness.  Allow space for creativity.  Do the unexpected, be innovative.
  4. Decide on the action.  Set the strategic direction.  Build scenarios based on assumptions.
  5. Implement the decision with radical transparency using the 5 P’s, so individuals can engage and adapt.
    1. Purpose: Ensure that people understand why this change is taking place.
    2. Picture: Provide an image of the desired future state.
    3. Plan: Help people see how you will move from the current state to the desired state.
    4. Part: Let people know what role they will play in the desired future state.
    5. Practice: Identify the practices that will facilitate new behaviors and new ways of doing things.

In the situation I mentioned above, I was able to put this framework into practice and successfully navigated an outcome that benefited the partner area and strengthened our relationship. The 3 lenses helped me to take a holistic viewpoint of the issue. The 4 I’s helped me to connect and understand both sides that were being impacted. Analyzing options with extreme open-mindedness helped us reach a decision that many had thought impossible. And lastly, using the 5 P’s helped me to engage and create a shared vision.

As you go through your week and make the countless decisions you get to make, how can you use these MOR practices to refine your own decision-making methodology?

Dane, Erik, et al. “When should I trust my gut? Linking domain expertise to intuitive decision-making effectiveness.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, vol. 119, no. 2012, 2012, pp. 187-194. Elsevier.
Kahneman, Slovic D., and A. Tversky. Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Cambridge University Press, 1982.
Schwartz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. Ecco, 2004.
Simon, Herbert A. On a Class of Skew Distribution Functions. Oxford University Press, 1955. Biometrika,….
Sweetman, David. The Science and Practice of Leadership. Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 2021.