Being the boss is great. You call the shots. But it has its darker moments too. The weight of the organisation’s survival - all those careers, livelihoods, and their families welfare - can rest heavily on a leader’s shoulders. In their honest moments leaders will admit that the critical decisions they’re making moment to moment, about everything happening in and around the organisation, are being taken with incomplete information and their actually just winging it.
If you’re a leader there’s nothing wrong with this state of affairs - everyone else is doing it too and if it wasn't you winging it then some other chancer would be. And if you think your organisation is luckier to have you than a thousand others it could choose from - then you’re probably right. As long as you're providing clarity and consistency in your decisions then you’ve got a big part of the job right.
But what about those 50/50 calls - the ones you know you could go either way with? Do you listen to your head and spend more time and money analysing things, or just go with your gut, again? But how do you justify option A to the pretty smart and powerful people in your organisation who all think you should choose option B (and vice versa)?
If you find yourself in this situation (and the likelihood is you are, increasingly often) then you’ll know how tangled complex issues feel, as the imperfect information you have in front of you suggests that opposing courses of future action are equally viable.
A business school education tends to hinder rather than help in situations like these. So leaders tend to act based on how they are rather than how the situation is: weak leaders will take the defensive option ("what will I get blamed least for if it goes wrong?") while seemingly strong leaders will attack ("that's my decision - now get behind it!"). Although there is a place for attack (in situations where time is running out) neither leadership style is advisable, though both predominant in Russia today.
The challenge is that complex questions can only be understood in hindsight (e.g. has central bank QE saved economies since 2009 or just built up an ever bigger bubble? Time will tell). It’s why you could do your last job better if you had the chance again. You lived through it, learned about it and gained valuable experience about what not to do. And this highlights the best option leaders have in making decisions about complex issues - ‘forced hindsight decision-making’.
Aircraft manufacturers discover their planes' performance parameters not by sending one up with a crew just because the Chief Engineer is sure they’ve designed and built a fail-safe aircraft, but by simulating performance in an environment that is safe to fail. In a flight simulator they can gain evidence (not just theory) about the viability of their choices in a way that is easy to recover from if things don't go as expected.
This rapid, low risk/low cost discovery of what doesn't work is not only one of the most important features of evolution on our planet but can also become a key part of the DNA of leadership decision-making in organisations faced by complex issues. Simulate the actions proposed in a safe-fail intervention and see what evidence (not hypotheses) comes back at you to guide your decision-making further.
The techniques to launch portfolios of multiple safe-to-fail simulations that nudge your organisation towards a more viable future state at lower risk and cost are available. So, do you dare to win?
#NavigatingComplexity #SmarterOrganisations #OrganisationalHealth
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"It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble;
it's what you know for sure that just ain't so"