Decisions with an Abundance of Councelors

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Decisions, decisions. All those in positions of authority have to make them. Sometimes they are simple and easy. Other times… not so much. Regardless, when decisions hang in the balance the leader needs to lead with confidence and fortitude, making proper judgments for the good of the organization and his/her team. But what is a confident decision without the ownership of the team that executes it?

The Bible tells us:

...for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in an abundance of counselors there is victory.   Proverbs 24:6

Over the last 25 or so years I have often either faced business decisions or observed others facing them struggle with the balance between promoting strong leadership or humbly listening the council of those around them. Many times when the determination over weighty issues has fallen upon a single person, I have seen that one person stand tall, make a declaration and give orders without consideration of objections from his/her team members, associates or staff- all because that person feared creating the perception that they were indecisive, incapable or inept. In my opinion, that leader was missing a golden opportunity to draw upon the type of wise council we see in Proverbs- wise council that builds confidence,collaboration and exemplary execution.

Major General George Meade of the Union Army of the Potomac during the Civil War is a prime example of a leader who took steps to properly assess, consider wise council, include subordinates in the decision-making process and consider a backup plan- all of which led to his victory at Gettysburg. Yet, some regarded General Meade’s process as a veiled attempt to cover his defeatist desire to retreat and exemplified his lack of decisive leadership. Military decision-makers of the 21st century disagree and I believe the Bible points out as well that General Meade’s process was sound.

On the night of July 2, 1863, General Meade assessed his situation. He had already lost some 8,700 men during the day’s battles; 2,200 more than the Confederates under General Robert E. Lee, whose war record was undefeated. Meade faced an undaunted enemy and uncertain odds when it was clear Lee would bring the attack again the following day. So with lack of solid intelligence from the field and the potential fate of the war upon him, Meade called all of his generals together for an informal gathering to ask them the tough questions, (paraphrased) “Should we hold our position against Lee or shall we fall back to realign our position closer to our storehouses?” At the same time, Meade also started a process to prepare an alternate option should the battle turn against them. Unanimously, Meade’s generals agreed they should stay the course, hold their positions. With the council and ownership of Meade’s generals- some of which would suffer greatly as a result- Meade ratified the decision to stay. When Lee’s attack came, Meade and his generals held their positions and reviled their attackers, saving the Union from a critical loss in the war, though Gettysburg cost Meade more than 23,000 lives.

What General Meade applied to his life during the war (whether knowing or not) was the Biblical principle of seeking wisdom from an abundance of counselors. Meade trusted his generals- he had placed them there- and they were on the front lines. Their wisdom and individual perspectives mattered. Meade’s decision was born on the wings of those who would execute the strategy and he agreed with them. It is speculated that had General Meade’s cut his losses, fallen back and regrouped, the Battle of Gettysburg may have gone to the Confederate army.

General Meade’s process was not just a military approach to problem solving. Meade’s policy is also a modern day business tactic for developing a strategic plan. In the book, Execution, by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, the writers state,

“…to be effective, any business strategy needs to be constructed and owned by those who will execute it, namely the [front] line people.”

We as supervisors need to be decision-makers who properly place people around us that collaborate for appropriate decision-making even though we are ultimately the ones responsible to make the final call. Doing so allows our team members to better support and own the decisions we make. We should not fear the ideas or objections from the “smartest guy in the room” will make us look bad, because we have placed that smart guy in his position precisely because- he’s smart. And if we don’t trust the council of our smart employees, we (the leaders) have to ask ourselves why we hired them to begin with and are they in the right position(s)?

Including the council of peers and subordinates as a part of the decision-making process should not encroach upon our ability as leaders to make the right decisions- it should enhance it, bolster our confidence and strengthen our fortitude. After all, the wisest man to have ever lived- King Solomon- thought so too!

 


 

Military Decision-Making Process: Case Studies Involving the Preparation, Committment, Application and Withdrawl of Force, by Kevin Dougherty. McFarland, Oct 25, 2013..

Battle Command, a Military Commader’s Perspective. General Frederick M. Franks. CJCS Mission Command White Paper, 3 April 2012.

Execution, by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. Crown Business, revised 2009.

This article was written by K. Scott Rimell

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