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The Decision Making Skill That Really Matters for Leaders

How confident are you in your decision making skill? Could you work with a team of four cross-functional peers, collectively taking on the role of a senior leader in an organization? Sounds straight-forward, right? What if your team has 90 minutes to come to consensus on a dozen strategic decisions, make numerous quantitative operational decisions and write multiple communications to various members of your organization?  

The question is not whether or not the team can make these decisions, but are they willing to own the decisions and the outcomes they create?

One of the most common requests we hear when we ask clients about their goals for a simulation-based leadership development program is that they want their leaders to learn about “decision making.” But every single day, leaders balance multiple variables to make dozens of decisions. If decision making is so common, why do we feel the need to “teach” it, and what part of decision making separates good leaders?

When we teach effective decision making, we use a model that looks at Decision Quality, Decision Practices and, the glue that holds it all together, Decision Leadership. A key element of Decision Leadership is Ownership, which is anchored in three questions a leader needs to ask:

  • Will you assume responsibility for making and sustaining this decision through implementation?
  • Are you willing to be the “face” of this decision?
  • Will you ensure others remember the decision and the reasoning behind the decision?

Decision Ownership

A key differentiator of effective leaders is their willingness to not just make a decision, but to own a decision as it plays out over time, even in the face of immense time or business pressure. Often, leaders don’t focus on this longer term element of decision making. However, when they do, they begin to see what slows down execution in their organizations. Poor decision ownership drives reopening choices, limited buy-in, and inconsistent execution.

Deepen Decision Leadership Skills

The scenario at the beginning of this post is real. A typical round of an Insight business simulation includes all those decision points and is designed to replicate the operating and leadership tensions that exist in most businesses, but in a compressed timeframe. Teams are often challenged to simply tackle the decision making required. However, it is when the teams receive their results—the business outcomes of those decisions-- that they really deepen their decision leadership skills. They need to own the resources required to execute their choices, however ambitious they might be; they have to explain results (good and bad) to their employees; they see in a shortened time horizon how tempting it is to “revise history” and rethink a decision in retrospect with the benefit of information that only becomes available through the passage of time. The leaders in the business simulation experience have to demonstrate decision ownership, and they learn the skills that enable them to improve their decision leadership back on the job.

We see time and again that simulations challenge individuals to not just learn by making decisions, but to learn by owning the decisions over time.


Download the Decision Leadership Guide


Jamie Hayman is VP of Business Development with Insight Experience, a Boston-based firm delivering contextually rich, immersive business simulations and learning experiences to accelerate and integrate leadership, business acumen and strategy execution.