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Effective Decision Making – The Four Best Practices

This video dives into the crucial aspect of decision-making for leaders, emphasizing its omnipresence in daily responsibilities. Acknowledging the common struggle in making effective decisions, the author discusses the four leadership styles—rational, visionary, empowering, and commanding—within the decision-making context. The video introduces a model called ZLM, comprising four fundamental questions: “What are the relevant facts?” (rational), “What outcome do I want after I intervene?” (visionary), “With whom should I brainstorm options?” (empowering), and “What criteria should I use to make the decision?” (commanding). By addressing these questions, leaders are guided to enhance the quality and consistency of their decision-making.


If you’re a leader, regardless of your level in the organization, you do one thing all day, every day. Can you guess what that is? You make decisions. Small ones, big ones. You make decisions all day. So the question is not whether you make decisions. The question is how well and how consistent are your decisions? Well, if you look at the academic research on decision-making. Here’s the bad news. The bad news is most leaders are batting around 600, meaning six out of 10 (60%) of the decisions are graded as good decisions. 40%. Not so much. So in baseball, batting 600 is pretty darn good. You know, in management leadership, not so much. How do we get better? That’s what I’m here to talk about today, to discuss the four best practices of effective decision-making. And we’ll do that by covering two topics. First, we’ll do a quick review of the four leadership styles. And if you haven’t had the opportunity, a more full explanation is in one of the other videos on how to stretch when you’re Pulled by Opposing Demands. That video has a little more detail on the four styles, if you’d like to view that. The second area is answering the four fundamental questions and the answer. Or actually just asking those four fundamental questions are the four best practices. So let’s do a quick review of the four leadership styles, especially as they relate to decision-making. The first style we need to talk about is the rational style in decision-making. What this is telling us is that leadership is always contextual in a given situation, and we have to understand that situation if we’re going to make a decision about that.

So the rational style of leadership is really about being in touch with the facts, monitoring the environment closely, clarifying expectations. So, for example, if you were going to decide how to handle an employee who’s not performing well this side of the equation, if you will, this leadership style would be asking you to investigate the circumstances of non-performance, to look in their employee files to see how often has this happened in the past, maybe to interview others? Hey, perhaps. You need to look at their job description to remind you what they’re supposed to be doing. That’s the rational side of leadership as it relates to decision-making. Opposite that is, we have the visionary side because you need to separate yourself, get some distance, is what some of the latest research says. Get some distance from the situation and start thinking about a wider context. In other words, how does this performance or how do the facts relate to the rational style? How do they relate to the big picture, the long-term goals, the strategies, maybe even the specific outcome that you want to create in this particular situation? So again, for example, a month ago, I was coaching a mid-level manager, and she said, well, I’ve got to go talk to my direct report. He is not performing well. I’m going to have a very difficult conversation with this individual. I said, okay, what’s the outcome that you want out of this? And she said, I need him to understand A, B, and C.

All you want is understanding. She paused and said, all right, Dave. What? She knew me pretty well. I said, don’t you really want changed behavior? X, y, z perhaps? She sighed and said, you’re right, you’re right. And it changed how she approached the situation. So the second step in decision-making is to think about what is the real outcome you want in the broader context. The third leadership style is the empowering style, and this is where you focus on others, especially if they can help you make a good decision. In this style, we’re asking you to embrace other stakeholders and brainstorm the various options. Now this often gets forgotten. For example, if we go back to the Cuban Missile Crisis in the United States back in the ’60s, the president at the time, JFK, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, he got a recommendation from the Joint Chiefs of Staff on how to deal with the missiles being installed in Cuba. You can probably guess what it was, right? Take military action and take those missiles out by military means. But you see, JFK didn’t stop there. He invited others to the table brainstorming options and came up with a very effective and unique approach. Can you remember what it was? A blockade? What? Are you kidding me? A blockade is your answer to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It worked and brought us back from the brink of what historians now tell us. The closest we’ve ever been to nuclear war.

Why? Brainstormed options at the empowering site invited others, focused on others. You can do the same. The fourth style is the commanding side because you’ve got to make a decision, and this is where you make the tough calls commanding, saying, you know what? I choose to be responsible here. Here’s what we’re going to do about it. And that’s the commanding style. So those are the four styles as they relate to decision-making. How do we put this all together and make it simple for you to apply every day, all day? Since that’s what you do, you make these decisions, right? We do that by asking and answering four fundamental questions related to those styles. Here it is in an integrated model called the ZLM. By the way, the expansive leadership model only took me about ten years to book this alligator together. Here are the four styles. And here are the four questions. You start, of course, with the rational style. If you have a decision to make, the first thing you want to say is what are the relevant facts? What are the relevant facts? You remember the example we said before, all leadership is contextual, and you want to get a feeling for that by asking what are the relevant facts? Once you’ve done that and answered that question, you go to the visionary style and you ask, what outcome do I want to occur after I intervene? Now, I’ll warn you when I’m being profound, what outcome do I want after the decision is made and implemented? Think about that, and it’ll help you widen your perspective to take it to a higher level, if you will.

Third, with whom should you brainstorm options? Are there stakeholders that you might invite to the table, interest groups who should be involved? If you increase engagement, you’ll increase commitment to the outcome of your decision, so brainstorm options with others. Two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling once said, if you want a really good idea, first generate lots of ideas. That’s what happens in the third step. Four steps make the decision. Make the decision. What criteria should you use as you make the decision? There are two that I recommend. One, of course. Which one brings you, of the options you discussed brainstormed? Which ones bring you closer to the desired outcome, and if you’re still a bit uncertain, use the what is called the utilitarian approach. And that is what’s the greatest good for the greatest number, usually over the long term. And that might help you make your decision. Now, how can you actually remember to ask these four questions? Do you see the little acronym there f o o d? Use this food to fuel your decision-making because any way you slice it, it is an excellent approach, and I think it’s also food for thought. Thank you. Make those great decisions.


This insightful video delves into essential survival skills for navigating today’s workplace challenges. Covering skills seven to ten, it emphasizes the importance of developing courage to face challenges (symbolized by “tigers”), mastering cross-functional teamwork, adapting to rapid change, and finding purpose beyond routine tasks. The author encourages readers to view their work as contributing to a larger purpose, urging them to quit a mundane job and discover work that aligns with personal passions and makes a meaningful impact. With a focus on personal development, organizational growth, and effective teamwork, the video provides practical advice for thriving in the dynamic modern workplace.

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