Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nobody Seems to Be Able To Make A Decision Without You?

You may have a problem with consistency.

It's flattering at first: crowded email inboxes, phone calls, people outside your office door, all waiting to ask your opinion, advice, or recommendation. But, after a while, you may wonder why no one can think for themselves.

Most likely you've created the problem yourself.  Unless you have the credibility of a sage, and your answers really ARE better than anything anyone else comes up with, you are likely giving your staff a different answer every time they ask you the same question. Your staff isn't being allowed to think for themselves if you, alone, possess the key to accuracy.

Inconsistency, generally, falls into two categories: actual and perceived.

With actual inconsistency, YOU are the problem. You are incapable of producing the same answer every time the same question is asked.  This problem is most prevalent if you make decisions out of emotion: how you feel at the time.  Can the art department overspend their budget this year?  No!  You are angry with the art department because they chose to ignore your suggestion for the art show. Can the music department overspend their budget this year? Yes. You are thrilled that the music department eagerly embraced the curriculum alignment task you presented and know that it will be highlighted on your evaluation this year. While it is clear to you why your answer for one is different than for the other, you've left your administrative assistant shaking her head.  You have guaranteed that she will ask you individually about every single department's opportunity to overspend their budget. Inconsistency based on emotion places you at the greatest risk of losing lasting credibility with your staff. Recognize, acknowledge, and directly address this feature of your leadership.

The other source of actual inconsistency is incompetence (temporary or permanent).  You are asked the same question about how to handle a situation and, because you don't know what the right answer is, you give a different answer every time the question arises.   If you are permanently incompetent, inconsistency is the least of your problems.  Temporary incompetence, based on the novelty of the situation or novelty in your position, has a quick solution.  Forewarning your staff that you are unsure of the correct answer until the issue is looked into more thoroughly, but for now let's..... quickly builds the appropriate parameters around the impact of the uncertainty.  You have cued your staff to ask this question again, but haven't given them a reason to believe that inconsistency is a threat in accurately predicting future responses in other contexts.

With perceived inconsistency, your staff considers you inconsistent in the absence of any additional information. This is a general failure of communication on your part.  From the balcony view of leadership, leaders recognize that each time that a question is asked, the variables are slightly different and the right answer must shift accordingly.  But, unless you fill your staff in, your communication looks like this:  Do you want to invite Joe to the retirement party? No.  Do you want to invite Joanne to the party? No.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell you that this will go on all day until you provide some criteria for who you want to invite.  This is an overly simplistic example; but the more information you can give your staff on the basis for a decision, the more you enable your staff to make that decision without asking you.  Though building depth of knowledge will take more time than a quick answer, it will go a long way in inspiring confidence and self-efficacy.   I have started cutting to the chase with staff.  Should I give Vinnie's mom a heads up on the team's recommendation at the IEP? I want you to do what it takes to preserve the confidence they have in your relationship with them, give as much information as needed to reassure them that their concerns will be addressed, and calm their worries by communicating only minimal details in advance if they will be resolved through negotiation during the meeting. 

With this kind of information, skilled staff have every boundary available to judge and respond accurately to the situation, know that they are well within the approved response, and have the opportunity to practice independent decision-making.