How Leaders Communicate and Manage Decisions

How Leaders Communicate and Manage Decisions

As you rise to higher levels of leadership, your orientation toward the work you do needs to change. For people used to serving in a technical role or a role as an individual contributor, this can be a challenging transformation – because it requires you to change the very model you have in your mind of what it means to be competent, to be successful.

As you change roles and move into a more senior role, your work shifts toward managing and leading people. Your success is defined by the work of others. Your victories are the result of other people’s successes.

Here’s another way to think about this transformation. Ask yourself: What are the things that only you, given your role, can do? The higher you rise in an organization, you’ll find that the answer frequently boils down to these things:

  1. Share information broadly
  2. Provide strategic context
  3. Set priorities
  4. Establish roles and responsibilities
  5. Convene teams
  6. Provide coaching and mentoring
  7. Engage people in decisions
  8. Ensure that people continuously learn (provide effective feedback and build “learning loops”).

Each of these things involve establishing processes and systematizing how you communicate. Let’s focus on two of them, starting with #1, share information broadly. Leaders are the information envoys of an organization, the ones who carry information and communicate across branches, divisions, departments – internally and externally. An important part of the job is to think strategically about what information needs to be conveyed to whom and when.

BlogLeaders Should Triple the Amount of Time They Spend Communicating

Build an internal stakeholder map

As a leader, you should have your own internal stakeholder map: Ask: Who are the internal people most affected by the work we do with whom I need to share information frequently and regularly? Map them in priority – and then decide how frequently you will initiate a meeting or have standing meetings with each of them. Make that your priority! Don’t delegate it to others until you have systematized the communication process.

Then repeat the exercise for your external stakeholders. Ask: Who is most affected and what communication would I want if I were in their shoes? How can I create regular forums for that information to flow regularly and easily?

Clarify roles and responsibilities

Another important aspect of the work is how to establish roles and responsibilities (#4). As a leader, your success is measured by how well you help establish and manage the processes through which other people make decisions.

This is what we call “leading through others.” It requires, among other things, determining where you can fully delegate, and where you need to facilitate the decision-making process yourself. In the latter case, your job as a leader is assembling the right people, preparing agendas, facilitating effective meetings, defining action items, following up to make the work is getting done, helping to figure out solutions when people get stuck, and providing encouraging and constructive feedback along the way.

Clarify decision-making processes

In any complicated decision-making process, there are lots of inter-related decisions. Here’s a list, roughly in order, of the related decisions that typically need to be made:

  1. What’s the goal we’re trying to achieve (or the problem we’re trying to solve)?
  2. How does that translate into a clear idea of the result we want to achieve and related measures of success?
  3. How are we assigning responsibilities? Who is going to be the ultimate decider? Who’s responsible for various tasks? How will decisions be made among the team? Consultatively or by consensus? (See: The Five Types of Decisions)
  4. Who else has to be involved in the decision process? Who needs to be consulted? Who needs to be informed?

If you find yourself struggling to find bandwidth to do these things, ask yourself: What tasks am I doing that I could delegate to someone else? How could I delegate more to free up capacity to truly lead and manage the work that other people do?

To reiterate the earlier point, in some cases, you can delegate and entrust a decision-making process to someone else. But in some cases, you need to lead the process. This is where you learn how to truly lead – by taking on the challenge (and the risk) to facilitate processes where you don’t necessarily know the outcome. All you can do is control the quality of the process itself.

Our virtual workshop “The Art of Managing Decisions” helps leaders get on the same page with a consistent vocabulary of decision-making.

Related tools:

Eric Douglas

Eric Douglas is the senior partner and founder of Leading Resources Inc., a consulting firm that focuses on developing high-performing organizations. For more than 20 years, Eric has successfully helped a wide array of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and corporations achieve breakthroughs in performance. His new book The Leadership Equation helps leaders achieve strategic clarity, manage change effectively, and build a leadership culture.

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