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The Risk of Circumstantial Decisions

I was chatting with a good friend who is in a major career junction in his life. My friend is a fairly senior leader in one of the service functions in his company. He had been doing the same type of job for the last 15 years. Over these years, he advanced, he was promoted and grew the scope of his responsibilities. However, he remained in the same function serving similar business and sales units for all these years.

He was mentally tired of doing the same thing for so long. He felt he needed a change. He just wasn’t sure what the change should be.

His dilemma was – to look yet again for the next-level role within the same support function he was already a part of, or to make a more radical move into one of the business units in order to start a new career in sales.

As he put it: “I could climb one more rung in the same ladder or put myself at the bottom of a new scale.”

The prospect of starting a whole new career in sales was the more appealing option to my friend. In fact, he received an attractive offer to transition into one of the local sales organizations as a sales leader. However, he had many reservations and fears about this potential transition.

As we were sipping our tea, he outlined the pros and cons of this decision.

His main pros were: (1) His direct functional boss supported his move out of the function, (2) The regional and local sales leaders also supported his move into their organization, and (3) The regional sales leader even offered allowances in responsibility to support his transition into the role.

The offer my friend received to move into sales seemed very appealing. In fact, my friend described it as a “once-in-a-lifetime offer not to be missed.”

On the other hand, my friend’s main cons and fears were: (1) what if he failed, (2) what if he disappointed the people who believed in him, and (3) his direct boss, as well as the regional and local sales leaders were themselves in a career junction and looking for their next assignment, so the likelihood of them staying around in the long term seemed slim.

My friend turned to me and asked – “What should I do?”

My guidance to him was:

1. You should feel very proud about the offer you received to move from a support function to sales. Not many people receive such an offer. It is a testament to your great personality, brand and leadership qualities and energy.
2. However, only accept the offer to move into sales if you are sure you want to develop a new career in sales. In other words, being a sales leader should be your aspiration and you must be willing to do what it takes to learn this new trait.
3. No matter how much encouragement and support you are currently receiving from people around you to make the move, sooner or later these people will all move on and you will be left alone, needing to stand on your own two feet. So, only make the move if you are fully prepared to continue your course with enthusiasm if/when this happens.
4. In fact, even the allowances that the regional sales leader is making today will soon expire and you will be expected to perform the complete duties of a sales leader, with all the personal stress associated with it.
5. In addition, given that you are “putting yourself on the bottom of a new scale,” it is inevitable that you will make mistakes, screw up, fail and disappoint people around you. Furthermore, there will be many moments along your journey when you will feel inadequate and that you are letting others down. It comes with the territory.
6. Because of all these things – ONLY make the decision to move to sales if this decision is based on your personal stand, not on circumstances and expectations. I call this type of decision an unconditional decision.

The moral of the story is:

When you base your decision on circumstances and these circumstances change, as they often do, the whole foundation for your decision is invalidated and you can easily abandon your direction or give up.

But, if you base your decision purely on your stand – even if circumstances around you change or worsen, the merit of your decision remains in tact and you are likely to stay the course and weather even the fiercest of storms.

Photo by: Daniel Oines

Why most teams are not strong at making decisions and sticking to them

How many times have you experienced the following scenario?

The team discusses an important challenge or opportunity that is critical to the organization’s future. The conversation goes on and on without resolution, as different people have divergent opinions about the best course of action. When the team tries to bring it to a conclusion, they are no closer to alignment. They leave the meeting “agreeing to disagree.”

Such meetings are worse than a waste of time: they actually damage the team, which is no closer to making the necessary decisions and assuming responsibility for them. Unfortunately, people have stayed within their comfort zones at the expense of moving the organization forward in new and dynamic ways.

Many times, this happens because leaders and managers either lack the courage to take a stand or they don’t understand their role as leaders. Often, people simply don’t know how to effectively manage conversations.

People seem to be so attached to their opinions and points of view that they simply don’t listen or can’t hear what their colleagues are saying. As a result, they can’t tell the difference between what is essential to moving the conversation forward and what is merely a matter of preference, form or cosmetic.

They want others to view and express things the way they do. But, in diverse teams that is not going to happen, and quite frankly it shouldn’t. In fact, one of the strengths of a diverse team is the ability of its members to look at things from multiple angles and points of view in order reach a richer and more complete conclusion.

But, reaching a conclusion is the key. And, this is what most teams don’t do well.

I often see team members arguing about important details even though they actually agree with each other on the principle or direction.  Instead of building upon each other, they react too quickly with “I disagree” only to say the same thing in their own words. This slows the discussion to a snail’s pace and makes everyone mentally and physically exhausted.

Another ailment: people opine endlessly about things without ever saying “therefore I propose” and moving the discussion forward toward a decision.

Discussions that spin in a directionless manner suck the energy out of the team. Although people remain seated around the table, they begin to silently give up and mentally disengage. This fuels negative underground chatter and background noise, as well as cynicism about meetings. In most organizations, the general sentiments about meetings are “too many” and “most are a waste of time”.

But it gets worse! When teams make decisions based on compromise and lack of alignment, people say all the right things – just to get the tortuous meeting over – but they leave the discussions not genuinely owning its conclusion, outcome and decision. When circumstances press, people have no problem paying lip service to the decisions.

Reflect on your own experience – have you ever looked back after these meetings and felt the frustrating feeling: “we just spent hours discussing and agreeing to something important, and people still go off and do what they want regardless of the decision?”

That dynamic is more damaging to the team and organization than if you didn’t make a decision in the first place.

Effective leaders and managers know how important it is to have an open debate with honest, respectful listening because there is rarely a single right answer to any dilemma or question. They always look for ways to encourage their people to set aside their personal egos, agendas, and preferences in order to align with the collective wisdom of the group.

They instill in their teams a commitment to the type of conversation that leads to making choices, aligning behind those choices, and taking responsibility together. This requires courage.

There is never a justification to leave a conversation “agreeing to disagree”. It is always a cop-out.

Of course, some topics are complex and may require a number of meetings and conversations to gather the necessary input and to digest it as a group. But, paralysis by analysis is always an excuse to avoid taking a stand.

Organizations that achieve 100 percent alignment behind a goal that is 80 percent right have a much greater chance of success than those where people are 80 percent aligned behind a goal that is 100 percent right. How motivated are those who are not aligned to work towards the success of a goal they have not endorsed? They are the ones watching and waiting to say: “I told you so.”

Obviously, it is scary to step up to the plate and take full responsibility for a goal or direction that is uncertain, controversial, difficult to achieve, or politically incorrect. But, when team members find the courage to make the tough choices, they are immediately more powerful. They are able to apply their energy towards proving their choices right rather than wasting energy on proving others wrong.

If an entire team is behind one direction – even if it is only 80 percent correct – if they truly align, commit, and have each other’s backs, it is astounding what can be accomplished.