Can You Be Your Organizations Next Leader?

Your ability to make effective decisions (or your lack thereof) often has a direct correlation to your leadership status within your organization. Today’s companies want leaders who not only have the ability to make critical business decisions, but also the ability to influence others so that they too make the most logical decisions to benefit the organization.

by Frank Bucaro, CSP, CPAE

Many organizations stress the importance of decision-making skills when appointing company leaders. While being an effective decision-maker isn’t the only criterion for becoming a leader, it’s certainly helpful. However, the process of decision-making isn’t as cut and dry as some may think. It’s a complex process that fortunately can be developed to ensure leadership potential in all who master the skill.

The decision-making process is actually a cycle. Our days are spent experiencing life, reflecting on those experiences, and making decisions based on the coming together of experience and reflection. Of the three steps, reflection is the most important.

But if leadership is mostly about influencing people, and it is, then how do we get people to make decisions? The answer is, you can’t. First, you can’t guarantee anyone an experience of any kind (short of death). If you have any doubt about this, let’s use this definition of experience: Experience is not what happens to you; rather, it’s what you make of what happens to you. Your experiences in life are much different from anyone else’s. Part of a leader’s job is to get into people’s glasses to see how they view things, because no one else sees the world the same way you do.

Next, can you make people make a decision? Can you make them buy your product or service? No, nor should you want to. You simply can’t make people buy or diversify or adapt. But the one thing you can do is help people reflect.

Reflective Decision-Making

Quite simply, the better someone reflects on a situation, the better his or her decision will be. True leaders leave the experience and the decision itself to the individual. The leader’s job is to help the individual reflect, because being able to reflect adequately comes through experience, guidance, and a measure of self-discipline.

Think of it somewhat like Freud’s classic psychological theory of the Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego. In this case we’ll call them the child, the parent, and the adult. They are three forces or personalities fighting within each one of us for dominance.

The child personality is at our core. It’s motivated by emotions. The child says "go for it." The parent in us surrounds the child protectively and says, "Watch out." The third persona is the adult. The adult doesn’t say yes or no. The adult says, "Let’s go slow here. Let’s think about this." The adult reflects thought. That’s where leadership comes in.

The Child: When Emotions Fuel Decisions

If you want to be an effective leader, realize that you can’t help how you feel, but you can help how you act. Emotions are neither right nor wrong. They just are. There are five basic emotions: sad, mad, glad, scared, and hurt. That’s it. You have the right to feel any way you want. But you do not have the right to act any way you want. It’s the child within that wants free reign.

To be an effective leader, you have to keep your emotions under control and not let them influence your decision-making ability. You need to separate your emotions form the situation to come to an objective conclusion. We hear a lot of stories these days of leaders who let their emotions run free. Read any business journal or magazine and you’ll find companies all over that are going out of business, being fined, going through federal investigations, etc. Do these types of reports make their customers feel good? No way! That’s why you have to keep yourself focused on what’s best for you and your company from an objective standpoint.

The lesson: Don’t base decisions on emotion. And don’t let emotions get in the way of effective leadership. Keep in mind, you’re not only in charge of your organizations’ bottom line, you’re in charge of its emotional climate as well. Remember that morale filters down; it never filters up. The way you act is what your employees will imitate.

The Parent: Life’s Lessons

We all have stories about how we grew up. Our parents, families, and communities instilled values in us-ethnic values, religious values, political values. All those things we bring to the table today. Simply stated, we are the sum total of our past experiences.

Think of your brain as a giant refrigerator. You put all the fresh information up front and you keep moving old stuff to the back. When you’ve packed so much in there that you can’t shut the refrigerator door anymore, what do you do? You empty it out. But you don’t throw away the stuff from up front, do you? No, you look in the back and you see things that have spoiled or are no longer useful. Those are the things you toss. The same thing happens in our mind.

Sometimes we forget earlier lessons as they get pushed to the back by life’s newer lessons. For instance, can you remember everything you learned academically in fifth grade? How about your sophomore year in high school? Junior year in college? This morning’s paper? Or can you only remember a few bits and pieces?

It may be that our memories really are selective. But at times we can pull things from the recesses of our minds that don’t seem possible. For instance, have you ever played trivia games? Even if you’re not a trivia know-it-all, you probably get at least half the questions correct, despite the fact that it’s not knowledge you use on a daily basis. How is that possible? Using the analogy from above, something in your freezer melted and came to the front of your refrigerator.

Our decision-making reflects those early lessons. At times our choices may seem intuitive. Maybe some are. But memory is a complexity beyond our grasp. Our decisions are rooted in our past whether we like to admit it or not. We may accept certain ideas without even knowing why, just as we may reject them.

The lesson here is simple. Know yourself. Leadership comes from knowing yourself, from knowing what pushes you to certain choices, and from teaching others to know themselves in the same way.

The Adult: Growing Into Reflection

The third personality is the adult. It is, or should be, the person we project to others. It’s the sum total of our emotions and experiences. It’s part child (emotion), and part parent (discipline). The adult doesn’t say yes or no to anything; instead, the adult says, "Let’s go slow here. Let’s think about this." The adult reflects thought. That’s where leadership comes in. From the adult self comes the ability to reflect and to think before acting. It’s the PTP factor, or the Price to Pay factor. What’s your Price to Pay for what you want to do? If you can’t pay, you’d better walk away because there’s an absolute in life that’s just like gravity. What goes around always comes around.

The Price to Pay is not rocket science. It’s learning to see the consequences of our actions-to see clearly the outcome of our decisions. Leaders reflect. But more important, as leaders, we need to teach these reflection skills to others. No two human beings see the world in quite the same way. No two of us has had the same experiences of life. And no two of us will arrive at the same decisions for the same reasons. As a leader, you have control over only one aspect of decision-making. Reflection. Practice it. Teach it.

The Decision-Making Dilemma

The challenge is that the satisfied and delighted customers are the "child" personalities. Those are emotions. Where is the loyal customer? In the "adult" personality. The challenge then as far as leadership goes, is to move those satisfied and delighted customers into the loyal rank.

It all relates to how people make buying decisions. The majority of people buy with emotion and justify with logic. If they can’t find the logic, they’ll cancel the order, return it, ask for a refund, etc. It’s like going food shopping with an empty stomach. That’s the child personality. You push the cart with your belly and put your arms on the shelves and load your cart. You spend more than what you have in your pocket. You either have to return some items or you feel guilty for overspending and don’t go shopping again for a long time.

The adult is when you eat lunch before you go grocery shopping. You’re able to go up and down the aisles saying, "I don’t need bread. I don’t need cookies. I don’t need candy." When you’re done, you have more money in your pocket and you don’t feel guilty for your choices. Why? You allowed yourself to reflect about it more.

True leadership is under the adult personality. If you read a newspaper today or watch the news, you know that the child personality dominates our world. That’s why we have wars and other conflict. Leaders need to move to the adult and then teach others how to do the same. Leaders know the success stories and accept the challenges. Now they’re providing the direction for others to follow.

Putting It All Together

Finally, in order to make good decisions, leaders must be sure they have all the information necessary so they can analyze the decision. Here’s a simple yet effective questioning technique that helps leaders analyze decisions.

1. ACT

What’s the action of behavior that is causing the problem or dilemma?

Who or what is involved and why?

What were the rationales for the action?


What do you know and not know about the situation?

Who was involved and wasn’t involved, and why?

What information are you lacking in order to make the decision and where can you obtain that information?

On what basis are you making the decision? Is it the company’s mission statement, Code of Ethics, the law, or your own personal sense of right and wrong?

Note: This point has to be very clear. Very often the decision hinges on the clarity about what the decision is based upon.


Who can you relay your decision to in order to get insight and a fresh perspective? Always bounce what you think your decision might be on those people that you know are "for you," i.e. colleagues in a similar industry, division, company, etc. This will hopefully provide objectivity to your proposed decision. Their input may help you "see" things you didn’t consider before, thus giving you added information before making a final decision.

When you incorporate this decision-making process into your daily operations, you’ll arrive at more effective decisions that will positively affect both you and your company. Additionally, as you teach these decision-making skills to others, your results will be multiplied. As your decision-making skills grow, so too will your value to the company and your leadership status.

Frank C. Bucaro is the President of Frank C. Bucaro & Associates, Inc. His firm works with organizations that want to integrate ethical standards of excellence with solid business practices. He also presents keynote and seminar programs on the relationship of ethics and values to long term success. For more information on Frank’s programs or to order his books, please call 800-784-4476.

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