Leaders make many complex decisions. They okay construction plans, structure mergers, and reorganize their operations. They introduce new products, convert to new technology, and choose when to expand into new territories.
These choices often call for knowledge beyond what any human has. Still many leaders do not know to design a testing ground into their leadership structure that involves competent others in their decision-making process. They do not know to use leader development simulations to check the potential fallout from their decisions. They do not know to negotiate for the up-front commitments of the implementers who will have to make their decisions come true.
The 2nd Illogical Belief Defined
Leaders get themselves into the grip of the 2nd Illogical Belief when:
- They assume they know all they need to know about what could go wrong.
- They believe they can make a final decision, in isolation, and set an irrevocable course of action without knowing its consequences for others and for themselves.
With the longer term effects of leaders’ decisions beyond their current know-how and comprehension, just the act of making a choice can start them along a potential path to failure.
Why Leaders Are Destined to Fail
Are all new-born decisions so fragile they must depend on others to make them come true?
Yes, if leaders want to smooth the path to success with the least risk of failure.
In his distinguished and well researched book, The Logic of Failure, Dietrich Dörner uses simulations and historical accounts to show why the flaws in all humans, including leaders, will cause them to fall short of their well-intentioned goals. His research found people and leaders in particular:
- Only process new information in small bits, have limited memory capacity, and can forget, neglect, or discount complex and costly details.
- Have limited perspectives because they think too slowly for the situations they are trying to steer. They have difficulty forecasting how events will unfold during their implementation process and devote too little time to ferreting out the second and third order consequences.
- Make choices and form plans about emerging needs and opportunities even though these are beyond their full comprehension. To compensate, at times they try to force fit solutions familiar to them, and not create processes which best fit their situation and strategic vision.
How Can Leaders Reduce Their Errors and Make More Decisions Come True?
- First, they can design a structure of leadership so involved, knowledgeable colleagues will keep them informed of emerging obstacles and barriers. This includes negotiating for the up-front commitment of those expected to carry out a decision. Pay special attention to the warnings, questions and unexpected challenges these colleagues point out. Listen when implementers point out what tradeoffs must occur to for a decision to come true.
- They can test their logic with customers in focus groups or in role-plays to learn what reactions to expect when the news of their decision goes public. This practice gives much more information about the second the third order consequences.
- They can break the decision into its steps, then make a series of step-by-step decisions and learn from their results after each step. That is, they make a small decision, track what happens, and then make a next decision based on what they learned from the earlier one. They engage others in conversations about the meaning of these results. They work with colleagues and implementers to reconsider and alter their course of action so it best fits the circumstances revealed along the path of its implementation.
What Can You Do Now?
- Share this article with someone whose leadership you would like to support and develop.
- Add your own ideas, your unique experiences, and comments below.
- Answer this question: What other steps can you take to compensate for a lack of knowledge when under pressure to make your decision?
- Start a conversation at your staff meeting on what steps you can take to reduce the errors of the 2nd Illogical Belief. Here are some questions to start.
- When have you made decisions that failed because you thought you knew all you needed to know?
- When have you included others and improved a decision you wanted to make?
- How do you know who to include in an upfront search for possible reactions and consequences?
- Contrast this belief to the 1st Illogical Belief, The Super Human Complex and see how in combination the two can lead to disastrous results.
Note: My thanks go to Randall Ford who first showed me how the lack of knowledge, although obvious, is an often overlooked human trait leading us all to stumble from time to time.