Yet Another Tip To Make Decisions Faster

In an earlier post, I’d shared the insight that separating WHAT it is you want to do (your decision) from WHEN you’d implement it can make the entire decision-making process easier. The human mind, certainly mine, fickle as it is, finds numerous ways to avoid making decisions. Take the case of wanting to quit your job, which seems a perennial favorite with young aspiring entrepreneurs.

WHAT: I’d like to quit my job – I’m sick and tired of it and want to do a startup.

BUT, how will I let my family/wife/significant other, know? The thought of having to convince stakeholders, especially if they are family – who we fear will not be receptive or supportive – puts the kibosh on even making the decision.

So step back and recognize the WHAT of a decision is the most important – and neither the WHEN will I implement the decision nor HOW will I implement the decision should come into play, while trying to make a decision. Of course, they are relevant such as

WHAT: I want to fire that guy who’s being a jerk to everyone else

HOW: Talk to him, if necessary with HR present. Ask him questions on how he perceives his own behavior. Provide him feedback on what you’ve observed. Put him on a 90-day improvement plan.

WHEN: By June 30th of this year

As you can see the HOW may require a fair amount of work – may involve others and will definitely influence the WHEN. None of this should put off making your decision – WHAT it is you want to do.

 

3 Steps For Handling Marketing Disasters Better

For marketers and leaders as communicators, these last few days have been a textbook case of how NOT to handle something. As one creative twitter user put it

I’ll admit playing Monday morning quarterback is easy. Yet the PR fiasco of how United (and it’s CEO) handled communication with its customers, employees and the world at large, could have been avoided with a touch of personal authenticity and a little faster. And the White House spokesperson Sean Spicer’s own travails could have been averted, with a little more care, and just taking some additional time before hitting the SEND button. (For those who missed it, three separate clarifications – stated, re-stated, re-re-stated, within a matter of minutes before a full-blown apology on cable television)

So what lessons can we draw as leaders and communicators

Be authentic
How would you act if this happened in person? If someone tripped over your leg or you happened to push them at the post-office or at a crosswalk? Despite the litigious society we live in, most reasonable folks would inquire after the other party, “Are you alright?” Covering for the company or your own rear with corporate speak such as “I apologize for having for having to re-accommodate these customers,” and then blaming the victim “…he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent” are both neither good nor smart.

Be timely
United’s CEO finally a full day later made this statement, “I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.” What a difference offering such an apology front would have made! In many ways, the Sean Spicer’s apology at the end of a relatively disastrous day in which he made comparisons between the Assad regime and Hitler, was a good example of timely and unequivocal apology. Unfortunately, in his case, his past flubs and history of misstatements likely undercut what otherwise appeared to be both genuine and textbook case of public contrition.

Be deliberate
As earlier attempts at clarification by both United’s CEO and the White House spokesperson demonstrated, little thought or deliberation seemed to have gone into their response. In Spicer’s case within 30 minutes, he sent three clarifications on what he had attempted to communicate with his Hitler comparison, with each further muddying waters. This was a clear case of not stepping back before hitting the SEND key. Deliberation does not mean delay or not timely – it primarily means the application of your mind – invariably it means not doing things as a reaction or in the throes of strong emotion.

In summary, acting in a Timely manner, while staying Authentic and being Deliberate in our actions is important for our communications to be effective. Think TAD!

5 Leadership Lessons from Teaching

classroom

Photo:asterixtom

“Help!”

Well, my email subject line actually read “Looking for advice/help.”

I’d just found out that I’ll be teaching a course on International Marketing (yay!) this coming semester. Once my initial euphoria died, I realized teaching a semester-long (14 weeks) course to a class of 21-year-olds was not something to be taken lightly. Hence the call for help to buddies of mine, who’s been molding young minds for more than two decades. The advice I got ranged from, “Oh, you’ll do great!” (fat lot of good that did) to a 90-minute primer on what teaching a course meant. As always I took profuse notes as my friends waxed.

When I went through my notes, one thing struck me – how much teaching a class well, required some of the same skills that any good leader (or startup founder) would need. So if I replaced the words “teaching” with “leadership” the advice was just as useful.

Here’s a quick summary of them.

Discover your leadership philosophy It’s important to understand and more importantly articulate both to yourself and your teams, what your leadership philosophy is. This isn’t as much what is right – Servant leadership or Leadership secrets of Attila the Hun – as much as knowing what works for you best and sharing it. If nothing else, answer for yourself, why are you a leader and how you plan to go about accomplishing this?

Understand your personal style Even leaders who share a common philosophy of leadership can have widely varying personal styles. My own personal style, regardless of the role I play in a team, is one of action – despite my oft-stated intent otherwise. I have seen folks who have a directive even aggressive style be just as successful as those who tend to ask questions and nudge. Recognizing your personal style and how it fits in with your leadership philosophy is important to help your team and yourself succeed.

State your expectations It’s important to articulate what you as a leader expect from your team. Whether what needs to get done, or how it needs to get done, stating this will save everyone a lot of grief. The more explicit and specific you are in articulating your expectations, the more likely they will be met. This is especially important when you take over as the leader of a new project, team or company.

Build on your strengths & share your experience As Peter Drucker put it “Make strength productive.” Building on your own strengths and sharing your past experience would help you be more successful and will give your team a sense of where you’ve been and lend credibility to your inputs. You need to balance sharing your experience against a tiresome telling of war stories.

Recognize people are different A team, whether it’s one you inherit or build, will likely consist of people who are widely different, in aspirations, attitudes, capabilities and working styles. If you have a large enough team, you’ll see something that approaches a Gaussian distribution – even in small teams, especially ones that you inherit, you will see a spectrum of personalities. Recognize this and keep the old adage Different Strokes for Different Folks in mind. You are less likely stumble and get frustrated.

I’d love to hear what your own experience has been both as a teacher and a leader.

3 Steps to Becoming a Better Communicator

“What is this person trying to tell me?”

Haven’t you found yourself wondering this in more than one situation?  In my experience, the single most critical skill that leaders in general and startup founders in particular need is that of being a good communicator. While most of us find it easy to talk  and some of us may actually listen, it doesn’t make us a good communicator.

How many of the meetings you attend seem not only interminable but often indecipherable? If this were a problem with just meetings, you could excuse yourself and read the meeting minutes. But alas meeting minutes, like many emails or other forms of written communication seem to only add to the confusion.

“What is this person trying to tell me?”

All of us are just as guilty as we dash off memos, texts, and presentations, sowing confusion at best and mayhem at worst. Here are three steps to help us communicate better. Try them and let me know how they work for you.

Single central message Whether a 3-line email or a 6-page white paper, your communication should have a SINGLE central message – what our English composition teachers tried to tell us – the theme sentence! This answers the question “What is this person trying to tell me?” So whether it’s the personal — “You need to spend less money on eating out” (that’s to my daughter), “We need to re-do the In-app Purchase (IAP) in this game (the professional)” or “We need to ensure ________ is not elected this year” (the national) or “We need a new nuclear disarmament treaty (the global) we need to communicate a single central message and no more in each of our communications.

Short as possible but long as needed This is one I’m yet to master and often undermines my own communication effectiveness. Even when I have a single central message if I wrap it with too many words, my message is lost. This could be emotional content (especially with my daughters), or excess justification (social or business context) or plain verbosity. Yet, in a corporate context, major changes require context setting, such as environmental factors at play, why this course of action and options considered – alternates considered and discarded and potential outcomes of actions taken or not. So the 3-sentence email one of my friends insists on writing may not always do the job, but ask yourself, does your presentation require 48 pages or can you say it any shorter?

Choose your medium carefully Sure writing email is easy – heck texting someone is even easier. But just as most folks agree, breaking up with your girlfriend (or significant other) over text is not cool, there is such a thing as an appropriate medium for any given communication. I’d say easier a missive is to send, the more likely it’s to sow confusion. Sure there are exceptions, but in general, it’s a good idea, to take a moment, before you send that text or email, to ask yourself, is this the best medium to communicate this message. I find often after having written a draft email, that picking up the phone or walking down the corridor to talk to the person a much more effective way to communicate. Similarly, even when presenting to a group of folks, few words on a slide or a graph to accompany your verbal communication or a handout might be more effective.

In summary, these 3 steps will help us take the first steps to being better communicators

  • What is my single central message?
  • Am I saying it as concisely as possible with adequate context?
  • What is the best medium to communicate this in?

An earlier draft of this article appeared in LinkedIn

Leaders come in all shapes and other lessons from a mentor

It would be a lie if I said that I had a well-threshed out idea of who or what a good leader was, when I was 25. Sure, I’d already had nine years of college by then, lived in 5 cities across two countries. It wasn’t for lack of exposure. However, my idea of a leader, certainly till that time, had been all extroverted, Type A personalities, many larger than life. Starting with my father, maternal grandfather, role models in college and my graduate adviser, every one of them had fit this mold. And then I met Brad Bradford.

Eighteen months into my first job, I got promoted to be a section manager – fancy title for doing more of the same, but this time it was my rear that was on the line. Brad had been my manager’s manager and now here I was reporting into him. While I’m no physical giant, being much slimmer than me (not too hard, these days) Brad was small made. On top of it, he was quiet, understated and very measured when he spoke.

Brad made me completely reassess what a leader is and how a leader operates. Some of these lessons bear repeating as I keep falling into my old ways.

Bearing & carriage I recall my mom often urging me to stand straight and not slouch. Brad was living proof of what my poor mom had meant by bearing and carriage. The manner in which he stood, walked and carried himself communicated loudly even when he didn’t say a word. Once when the production line was down and we were furiously trying experiments, some of which were 12 hours long, to figure out what was broken. Brad would walk over to my cubicle and stand right there and look at me – not a word would be said to communicate that he was there to support us and to make sure we gave it our all. On that Monday day the factory was sold and we’d all been called to a meeting to tell us that we’d no longer have a job, Brad’s bearing and carriage said more about how we’d survive this and carry on than any words could have.

Action not words While I’ve always been voluble, some might say long-winded, Brad was – and I suspect still is –  a man of few words. This is not to say that he didn’t have a lot to say but he was the archetype of SHOW not tell. Whether pressing with upper management for more resources, negotiating with vendors or getting down to the factory floor to run or check on experiments, Brad was not big on “Let me tell you…” but got out there and did it. Never once in the two years I’d worked with him did I hear Brad raise his voice. All too often I had to strain to hear what he was saying!

Smile and humor For a man from Minnesota, working with a bunch of young, fresh graduates from India, Iran, Eastern Europe and laid back West Coast types, I’m surprised Brad didn’t throw things at us or at least yell even if he might have been tempted to take an axe (or the whatever weapon of choice Minnesotans had). As our factory was being, built once a week we’d have a crisis. The factory director, a storybook Texan with an enormous temper, would lead the raving and ranting that involved much frothing at the mouth. We young ‘uns would be easily offended and spoiling for a fight at being accused of doing a poor job. Brad on the other hand, unflappable as ever, would be an island of calm. He had a devastating smile and an understated sense of humor, that not only maintained his sanity but kept the rest of us cowboys in line.

Brad, thank you for showing me what leadership is and how you can lead effectively without being an Attila. I’m still learning to practice some of the lessons you’ve taught me.


You can read all the posts in my 30 days of gratitude series here.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 |

Learning leadership from business & politics

Cover of

Cover of On Becoming a Leader

There are few things that have been written so much about and yet not understood well as leadership – okay possibly parenting, but that’s for another place and day. Stop the next six people you encounter today and ask them about their favorite leader and what it is that makes them a great leader. You are likely to get at last six different answers, possibly more. If we dig a little deeper we’ll also discover people expect different things from different leaders – as in what constitutes a great statesman, a successful business leader, a politician or a community or social leader. Whilst all this is natural and not unexpected, it is of little help for those of us looking to role models and to answer the question how do I become a leader and what should I do as a leader.

There is the common perception, quite widely held even in business circles, of an awe-inspiring, charismatic leader – gimlet eyed, firm jawed capable of making rapid decisions – sort of Churchill sans the cigar. Jack Welch of General Electric and Henry Nicholas, former CEO of Broadcom fall into this category of leader models. At the other extreme we have Bill Gates one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time, who till a few years back was underwhelming at best in his public presentations. Yet the leaders we meet everyday – even the few that we admire seem to be cut from as many different types of cloth as there are men and women.

Closer home, few Indian business leaders have gotten the same measure of public exposure or attention that Bollywood, cricket or politics gets, for us to easily draw definitive stands on leadership styles. Politics by virtue of its very nature, throws up a large share of leaders, at least ones that get a disproportionate share of air time. Interestingly Indian politics, especially recently, has thrown up a wide and varied share of leaders – particularly women leaders – J. Jayalalitha, Mamta Bannerjee, Mayawati and of course Sonia Gandhi. Fewer groups could be as dissimilar as these four women and yet they command respect with vast swathes of people and wield considerable power. Their styles are as varied as the regions the cuisines of India are. Similarly, for the first time since Independence, men and women such as Aruna Irani, Kiran Bedi and Anna Hazare, who are not politicians, movie stars or cricketers have captured our attention and imagination. Their use of social and new media in combination with old style street activism, itself offers some interesting lessons in both leading change and leadership styles.

The challenge of course in formulating our leadership lessons from politicians and business leaders, whether in India or overseas, particularly from what is written about them is in separating the myth from reality. The natural question is that how much of this is business, culture or country specific and should we look to Indian business leaders to draw lessons for ourselves? Unfortunately a good deal of writing about business leaders in India has been panegyric limiting their usefulness as lessons in leadership. Fortunately much of what has been written about business leaders overseas, even when not scholarly, has been done so in mostly an objective manner and occasionally in an outright critical manner.

Warren Bennis’ “On Becoming a Leader” was inspired in his own words “by the gap between theory and practice, the difference between what one thinks and teaches and what one does.” By covering 28 specific individuals – men and women, all American, across a variety of professions, helps identify the critical ingredients for leadership success. More importantly he outlines a way to grow those qualities in us and in the people we will lead. As he states up front in his introduction, in his first book “Leaders” he covered the “Whats” and in this book, he covers the “Hows.” In the mold of Tom Peters and Peter Drucker, Warren Bennis has carved himself a seminal role in business through his research on Leadership. This book of his, rooted as it is in the real world of practicing leaders can help each of us become the leader we are fully capable of being.

This article originally appeared in the Book Beginnings column in Mint.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Only Business Book You’d Ever Have to Read

A quick glance at a typical entrepreneurs’ nightstand will show at least two or three books piled up waiting to be read. Despite their best intentions, entrepreneurs and other business folks often don’t get around to reading all the books they plan to. The fact that they are frequently gifted many “must-read” books only adds to the problem. If you thought things were bad before, our friends and sundry experts on Twitter and Facebook who’ve begun showering all of us with even more recommendations are making matters worse.

Effective Executive image (c) MintLast night when the pile of books on my bedside table tumbled over, I was finally spurred to action. I set out on a quest – to find that one book that must be read – after which it wouldn’t matter if I read any  others. I’d have to admit that my thus-far forbearing spouse probably had as much to do with my wanting just one book on my nightstand. It is this journey I share with you in this week’s column.

The preamble of the US Declaration of Independence, first adopted on July 4, 1776, states “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”  Scholars agree that the authors of the Declaration of Independence were greatly influenced by the work of English philosopher John Locke (1632 – 1704). That his ideas have held sway for over three hundred years speaks to the foresight and genius of John Locke. If there is such a philosopher in business, who has not only  influenced multiple generations of business leaders but continues to stay relevant today, it is Peter Drucker.

Whether you are a new employee starting out on your first job or an experienced CEO and particularly if are an entrepreneur, Peter Drucker has something of lasting value to impart to you. The challenge in getting acquainted with Peter Drucker and his work is the sheer prodigiousness of his written output. He’s Shakespearean in the number of volumes (nearly forty) he has authored and the breadth of subjects he’s covered. The utter clarity of thought and simplicity of his communication style have earned Drucker, in my opinion, the right to be termed the Bard of Business.

And much like getting acquainted with the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon through a Minerva or Cliff Notes guide, the first time reader might wish there was a quick and easy guide to Drucker. Luckily Drucker’s own “The Effective Executive” first published in 1966 (subsequently revised as The Effective Executive Revised in 2002 and The Effective Executive in Action in 2005) is such a guide.  The book distills the wisdom needed for a professional lifetime in Drucker’s trademark lucid style within its slim 174 pages. It is the volume I’d choose, if I had to pick only one of his books.

The charm of the book lies in Drucker’s simple assertion that effectiveness can be learned. Never one to mince words, he asserts in the very first chapter,“Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results.” He then quickly spells out five simple steps to learn and practice effectiveness.

Drucker’s frequent use of compelling anecdotes from his own wide-ranging consulting career and history makes reading the book not only pleasurable but memorable as well.  My own favorite story is the one about President Abraham Lincoln’s response when he’s told about his new commander-in-chief’ General Grant’s fondness for the bottle. “If I knew his brand, I’d send a barrel or so to some other generals.” Drucker goes on to say, Grant’s appointment was effective because he was chosen for his strength of winning battles and “not for his sobriety, that is, for the absence of a weakness.”

My roommate in college would read the Bible each night before he went to bed. Many a times, as brash 18-year-olds are wont to do, I’d ask him “Haven’t you read it before? How come you are reading it again?” To his credit he never lost his cool and would mostly give me an indulgent smile before returning to his book. It was only much later that I came to appreciate the value of returning to a book I’d read many times and discovering new things each time. The Effective Executive is such a book, one that I find myself returning to each year and it has never disappointed.

Get yourself a copy today and you wouldn’t even have to clear out any space, given the slim volume it is.

Summary

Effective executives

  • Manage their time through explicit choices about what’s important
  • Focus on what they can contribute themselves
  • Build on people’s strengths rather than try to mitigate their weaknesses
  • Set and drive the long-term business priorities
  • Understand and make effective decisions and
  • Know that effectiveness can be learned

 

An edited version of this article first appeared in my Book Beginnings column in the Mint.

Chefs & Ginger: Lessons for the Startup CEO

Gari (A japanese pickled ginger.) ???

Image via Wikipedia

One of the best kept secrets least discussed matters in the startup world is what power a CEO really wields. When you are one of the worker bees or even a vice president it seems that the CEO is this powerful fellow, who at times appears all-knowing. And even when he isn’t, he still seems to wield an unfair amount of power. It’s only when you get to be the CEO of your own startup — by accident, choice or default — you realize that the power of the CEO is all too illusory.

Sure you can TELL folks what they should do and you can mean NOW! but that doesn’t work too well nor get you too far. You’ll soon find out, what anyone who’s raised teens knows, that what you want and what you get can be two different things.

Recently as a friend and fellow entrepreneur and I discussed issues each of us were facing in our businesses, about getting things accomplished, it hit me suddenly. Ginger! There’s much leaders, especially new CEOs, can learn from good Asian chefs – especially in how they use Zingiber officinale – or ginger.

Ginger when used in small amounts, whether to flavor a favorite curry dish or to create a zing in your tea, elevates the dish and the entire culinary experience. There are few delights greater than having sushi with some finely sliced and pickled ginger – a near out-of-body experience when accompanied by wasabi. At the other end, a well made ginger ale or even a ginger chutney, despite being all ginger can be immensely enjoyable.

The trouble however arises when too much ginger is used in the tea or too little in the ginger ale, making both undrinkable and worse yet leaving a nasty aftertaste. Despite the taste risks too much or too little ginger poses, you rarely find Asian cooks using physical measures of the quantum of ginger they use. It’s all a subjective call and a visual appraisal honed through apprenticeship and experience.

It is the same expertise that leaders, especially of startups need to cultivate of when and how to use what amount of cajoling, pressure, suasion or even the occasional threat to get their work accomplished.

Of course both the chefs and chiefs can benefit from sharp knives, but that’s a story for another day!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Communicating to Reassure – Lessons from the Real World

Stories of personal heroism and the extraordinary effort are slowly appearing from the survivors of the terrorist attack on Mumbai.  Besides the obvious lessons on preparedness (or lack thereof ), there is an important lesson for all of us on the criticality of timely communication. Much of the anger and angst felt by people towards politicians and the media , during and after the attacks, stems from the vacuum created by the absence of a single official source of information. Even if it were to tell people, “We don’t have the facts yet, but we are staying on top of it and will let you know the moment we know something,” people would have rallied around the speaker and the message.

Contrast this with the role Rudy Giuliani played even as the World Trade Center towers burned during the 9/11 attacks on New York. As the New York Times reported ,

Three hours [after the attack began] … he stepped into a press conference with Gov. George E. Pataki. 

“Today is obviously one of the most difficult days in the history of the city,” he said softly. “The tragedy that we are undergoing right now is something that we’ve had nightmares about. My heart goes out to all the innocent victims of this horrible and vicious act of terrorism. And our focus now has to be to save as many lives as possible.”

Through that day, Giuliani held two more press conferences and at 11PM, was seen walking around Ground Zero talking to rescue workers. While I was no admirer of Rudy Giuliani prior to 9/11 or his recent run for the 2008 Republican nomination, he demonstrated through his actions and presence, the signs of a leader – one who understood the need to communicate, to reassure, even when he did not have all the facts.

While the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra did appear on television several times, their unsubstantiated assertions on the number of terrorists, their origins and the state of the seige which changed with each interview undermined any confidence the public may have had. The Prime Minister too when he addressed the nation a day after the attack began, seemed to mumble incoherently and was insipid in the kind words of one editorial commentator .

It is a shame that the Indian political leadership at the city, state or national level failed to step up to the bar, to provide the focal point that people sought. Mr. Chidambaram, this might be your opportunity to provide such a leadership to reassure the citizens through direct, periodic and factual communication.

Leadership requires communication, be it good news, bad news or worse yet no real news. Communication done clearly and consistently is more likely to reassure listeners than silence, even if the crisis isn’t over.

Decisions – how do we make them effectively

Decision Making Chart

Life has a nasty way of springing surprises on you. The only certainty, it would appear, is that you will encounter a lot of uncertainty. Being an entrepreneur is no different. If you are like me, you might have thought you made your hardest decision when you chose to become an entrepreneur.

Wrong! Before you know it, the business, customers, employees and the world at large are bringing problems that require you to make decisions. There also seem to be few easy decisions. Why didn’t anyone tell you about this? Well, you heard it here first — much of your productive time as an entrepreneur will go to making, hopefully, good decisions.

“Effective executives do not make a great many decisions. They concentrate on the important ones,” says Peter Drucker in his book The Effective Executive. Simple as Drucker’s assertion sounds, it is hard in the fog of entrepreneurial battle to focus on the important few. So how do you identify the important from the merely urgent or routine problems? Having identified these, how can you make good or effective decisions?

Is this your decision?
The best way to make good decisions is to first determine if it is even your decision to make. Entrepreneurs — and here I speak with some experience — love to be in the thick of things. “The equipment is stuck in Customs. We won’t be able to ship our product on time. What do we do?” “He won’t accept our offer without a joining bonus. Should we offer him one?” “The customer will not issue a purchase order without a penalty clause. Do we agree to one?”

Issues like these will keep popping up all the time. While you may love playing Captain Crunch, the one everyone goes to for decisions, you would be mistaken to offer one for every question posed. If you want your business to grow and, importantly, if you want to have a personal life, it is critical that most decisions be made by other people. That is the first decision you have to make every time, answering the question: Is this a decision someone else should be making?

So how do you determine which decisions are yours to make? I’d recommend that you use the following simple guideline — if a year from now it would still matter what decision you make now, then it is probably something you want to be involved in. For instance, agreeing to a penalty clause in a multi-year contract with the Government will matter. Similarly, anything that involves the culture of your organisation or shareholding or capitalisation would make the cut. Most other decisions can probably be made by someone else. Which of course brings up the question: How do you ensure that the decisions others make do not drown your business?

Decision mechanics
Having a well thought out and tested process for decision making will not only help you but your entire team make the right decisions. Here again, I refer to the work of Peter Drucker who spells out a five-step decision-making process. They are:

  • Comprehending the nature of the problem or decision — is it generic or an exception?
  • Understanding the boundary conditions of the problem.
  • Figuring out the right solution without considering real world compromises that might be needed.
  • The action required to execute the decision.
  • Validating the appropriateness of the decision once taken.

At first glance, it may seem tough to figure out what to do if your product won’t ship on time. Most operational issues do not require executive decision making. As in the example of agreeing to a penalty clause in your Government order or deciding to do business with the Government or setting up an overseas distributor — issues that will have a long-term impact on your business — a well thought out process helps. Further, it allows your senior staff or other partners to use the same methods and yardsticks to make their decisions. This way your direct presence or involvement is not needed in each time.

Drucker makes the point that one rarely encounters truly exceptional cases. Most situations you encounter, even if new to your business, are generic and would require a rule to be fashioned. “We don’t sign penalty clauses in our contracts or any penalty or liability clause cannot exceed the value of the contract itself,” is a rule you can formulate. “We may offer discounts or walk away but no penalty clauses,” is another. It is critical to define the problem before you attempt to make a decision. This requires the first three steps to be followed rigorously. Subsequently, dealing in the real world rather than in some ideal scenario, it is important to ensure that the solution is effective. And this should not merely be faith-based but data-driven; such validation after a decision is made will ensure you continue to make good decisions or learn from bad ones.

The five steps could take a few minutes in some instances and a few weeks in others. Either way, it will help you make measured decisions. Needless to say no process is infallible and good leaders trust their instincts. Of course, great leaders know when not to rely on their instincts but to get the data first.

Not making a decision is a decision
The former Indian Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao epitomised the art of non-decision making or so it seemed. Legend has it that he’d avoid making difficult decisions and in time, the problem would disappear or resolve itself. As an entrepreneur you will rarely have the luxury of ignoring decision making. That is not to say you will not do it. I have avoided the hard decision to let go of some difficult employees, as my staff keep reminding me frequently. Such avoidance of decision making is the classical ostrich-sticking-its-head-in-the-sand syndrome.

It is critical to recognise that it is a legitimate decision when you decide to not make a decision. It’s worth reading the previous sentence more than once — it is not intended as a play on words. Choosing to not make a decision is completely different from avoiding a decision. The difference is that you have made an explicit choice, one with consequences that you understand and are prepared to live with. Such a choice is particularly appropriate when it is evident that the situation will take care of itself. More importantly, it is of little importance, even if annoying, and is unlikely to have any material impact. In such circumstances, it is worth keeping in mind the Roman edict, “De minimis non curat praetor”or “the magistrate does not consider trifles!”

This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 17, 2008

Enhanced by Zemanta