Leadership Styles: Decision Making

For organizations to grow and develop they must undergo change.  Numerous decisions are made during times of change.  How you, as a manager, handle decision-making will directly influence how your organization fares during these times.

Tannenbaum, Schmidt and Crosby, three visionaries in the field of Organizational Development, suggest the following styles of decision-making:

  • Autocratic
  • Consultative
  • Group Decision
  • Delegation

Each of the styles can be useful and effective depending on the situation.  The key is to be honest about which style you are using, first with yourself and then with your team.

Autocratic and Consultative decisions are made by the leader or manager. These styles vary in the level of team participation, but in both you make the decision.  Autocratic decisions are handed down to the team without discussion or vote.  Even the most democratic manager knows that using Autocratic decision-making is sometimes necessary especially when a decision needs to be made quickly.  For many this style feels harsh, but rest assured you can demonstrate consideration and compassion for your team while using the Autocratic style, even though the team is not directly involved in the decision.

There are times when you will want input from your team before making a decision.  This can be either to solicit new ideas for consideration, or to see how the team feels about some of the options you are considering.  These are examples of the Consultative style.  This kind of decision-making allows for active participation from the team. Consultative decision-making allows you to capture and utilize the creativity in your team as well as gauge the popularity or usefulness of your ideas before coming to your final decision.

When you bring your team in and allow them to be in charge of the decision, you are either using the Group Decision or Delegation style.  In both styles you give up your veto power and agree to allow the group to make the decision.  It is crucial with these styles to be clear with regard to the goals to be achieved and the boundaries of the group.  Group Decision can be accomplished either by majority vote or by reaching consensus.  Consensus is generally the most time consuming style because each member must agree.  At the same time, when consensus is reached you are more likely to have all members of your team on board, because together you have all come to agreement on your decision.

Taking yourself out of the mix all together is the final style, Delegation. This is when you assign the decision-making to either a group or subordinate.  Because you will not be a part of the decision-making process, it is important to make sure you are explicit about the parameters and goals.  When using this style it is prudent to ask the group or delegate to repeat back to you what they believe to be their charge so that everybody is absolutely certain everybody is on the same page.

It is important to be familiar with the different styles and clear with yourself about which you are using.  This will allow you to communicate to your team exactly what decisions will be made and who will make them. It is an unfortunate waste of resources to have team members spending valuable time researching solutions that you have no intention of using.  Additionally, you now have the unpleasant task of correcting the situation, which may cause bad feelings and result in loss of morale.  This unpleasantness can be avoided by making sure you are upfront about how decisions will be made.

Regardless of which style or styles you feel most comfortable with, a prudent manager will become familiar with and practiced in each style.  No organization can implement a single style to deal with the multitude of decisions that need to be made during the change process.  For this reason your best bet is to remain flexible and open to each of the styles.  Remember to be clear about which style you are using and what that means in terms of team participation.  This transparency allows you and your team to feel good about the process.  More importantly, the team will likely be willing to implement the decisions with minimal resistance.

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