Managers need to be decisive

Pete and Grace are standing on a rock, so you can imagine how tall the ferns were when she was at the ground level! Sometimes followers understand the dangers they face in uncharted territory, sometimes they don’t. It’s the leader’s responsibility to determine the best course, and have the courage to change the direction when needed.

Sometimes, somebody just needs to make a decision.

I was lucky to have my husband be that person recently. He, Grace, and I headed out on a new trail we found in a book listing hikes in our local area. We copied pages from the book with the map and text describing the walk; the directions offered umpteen landmarks and milestones along the five-mile round-trip and as we started out, we commented how detailed and accurate the notes were to follow.

But suddenly we found ourselves at a point where things weren’t as clear as before. We saw a trail sign with a directional arrow that seemed correct, so we took it. But the path was a bit overgrown and went downhill, when our destination was the summit of a small mountain. Hmmmm. Didn’t seem quite right but nothing else was immediately obvious.

“I guess these guys know where they’re going.”

So we kept walking, making another turn that we thought was right. The ferns got taller. There was no path. We were headed down a steeper hill. We starting making excuses, such as maybe the book was older than we thought or it was just that no one had been on this stretch for a long time. Managers and employees often find ways to rationalize a problem.

What was funny (to me) is that Grace and I happily followed along. I suppose we were convinced that our hike leader had things under control. It was not easy walking for Grace, as the ground cover was taller than she, and very dense. Yet she never once whined. She gave curious looks, but even as we paused to assess the situation, she remained silent. Keep in mind that this dog is The Queen of Whine. If she’s unhappy, bored, nervous, whatever, she whines. A lot. But today, nothing from her.

I was willing to forge ahead, too, optimistic that we might eventually find the right trail somehow, somewhere. After all, I really wanted to get to the top of this mountain. Sometimes we get so fixated on the goal that we lose track of how to get there, and make some bad choices in order to ensure “success.”

YES! That’s the direction we were after!

After about 10 or 15 minutes of feeling like the path was odd, the rational one among us said, “We’re not going any further. This isn’t right.”

What would Grace and I have done if Pete hadn’t made that decision? Truth is that we probably wouldn’t have gone as far as we did. We trusted the person we were following and we happily moved along with him.

So my point for managers? Employees will often place their trust and faith in managers who they think know best–and will follow them to places that may not make a bit of sense. So be careful where you take them. 

Of course, sometimes going beyond the boundaries of established norms is a good thing because it stretches our creativity and we find new solutions, new products, new ideas. But there is a time when a manager has to call off a plan if it’s not going well. She has to say, “This isn’t working and we’re not going in this direction any longer. We need to change course.”

Satisfaction at the summit! We made it, thanks to our leader making the right decisions at the right time.

Yet I think managers will too frequently hold to a course they set because it would be admitting failure if they stopped or altered. They view it as a sign of weakness, as if they have made a mistake.  Of course, the mistake is if you bury your head in the sand and continue when things are going wrong. Effective managers understand their natural style, which allows them to be more effective in how (and when) they make decisions.

On our walk, Grace and I weren’t even raising distress signals. We were out enjoying the adventure, even though if we had continued too far in the hot temperatures, we could have been in jeopardy, perhaps with too little water or disoriented with no path to follow.

Have you been a part of a situation where you saw that a plan wasn’t going as expected, but no one wanted to admit it? Or (even worse) perhaps didn’t even know you were headed to disaster? What did you do? 

Managers need to be realistic when assessing what path you are on. Be open to signs that indicate you’re astray. If it feels wrong, it probably is wrong. So why keep heading in that direction?

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  1. Didi Wright on July 19, 2012 at 5:09 am

    Yep, you hit the nail in the head, Robin. Many people like to take a back position and let others lead, because then it wouldn’t be their fault if anything goes wrong. Not long ago, I had a discussion with a friend who’s employed, comparing what it’s like to work for someone else as opposed to working for yourself. I said that I liked taking responsibility and making my own decisions… She said that she’ll always aim to be employed, because it makes her feel ‘safer’…Just turn up for work, do what you’re supposed to, follow instructions and take your salary at the end of the month. It seems to work for her, but it would never work for me.
    About your mountain adventure, we had a similar one when we went on holiday to the Lakes. My husband was in charge of the map and finding the way, whilst Brianna, George and I were happy to follow and enjoy the hike. The path went the wrong way but we followed it anyway, until the ‘leader’ stopped and said that we had to go back. We all already knew that, but we needed him to make the decision…
    BTW, Grace looks beautiful amongst those ferns 🙂

  2. Robin on July 20, 2012 at 7:38 am

    How funny that your family happily followed along behind your husband, too. It’s interesting to think about how long our walks would have continued before someone else stepped in with a change of direction, isn’t it? I love to reflect back on how things unfold and why! And yes, I am inline with your thinking about responsibility. I think it’s wise to take the approach of holding ownership for your work (whether self-employed or not) as opposed to just taking directions. With very few exceptions, no one is truly “safe” as an employee, there are too many things that fall outside their control. Organizations look for people who will provide value, not just ones that take orders. Thanks, as always, for your input!

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