Leadership and Decision Making

Here’s a question for managers and supervisors.

Does your leadership style contribute to or hinder decision making?  Does it contribute to the problem or the solution?

Research has found that the style of leadership used within a group will have a direct impact upon the workings of the members.    It involves the facilitation of the interactions of the individual members, monitoring and encouraging member participation and completing the assigned tasks.  Leadership within a group may either be earned or ascribed.  When a group first forms the leadership issue must be decided.  Until that happens the group cannot focus on the tasks.  The style of leadership may vary along a continuum of authoritarian to non-directive.

An authoritarian leader is in complete control of the group.  The leader will make the decisions and then announce them to the members.  Information may be solicited from the members but may not affect the final decision.  An authoritarian leader is concerned only with getting the job done and not with whether the members approve of the final decision.

An authoritarian-democratic leader will make a decision and then attempt to persuade the group members to support it.  Such a leader needs the cooperation of the group to insure the task is completed.  The leader will attempt to persuade the members to support any decisions which have been made, whether or not the group had any input into that decision.

A democratic leader will present ideas and ask for input.  Additional suggestions may be asked from the members during the course of the meeting.  Decisions from such a leadership style are usually the result of a majority vote.

When compared to one another, authoritarian leaders will produce faster decisions in part because they have encouraged centralized communication structures.  Nondirective leaders encourage the use of decentralized communication structures and while slower, they will produce higher quality decisions.

So which style of leadership do you have and how effective are you in resolving problems?  If problem solving remains an issue, consider looking at your leadership style and making changes in order to bring about the best solutions possible.


Problem Solving and Communication

Common sense tells us that problem resolution is heavily dependent upon communication.  The communication structure used to address and resolve the problem is important.  Here are a few points you may want to consider.

Leaders will often use a centralized communication structure in order to establish group norms.  This is particularly true for newly formed groups.  Researchers have described centralized communication as either a chain or a “Y” with the leader exerting strict control over which group members get what information.  In contrast, a decentralized communication structure has been described as a circle which gives every individual in the group access to all other group members.

Both centralized and decentralized communication structures are well suited to resolving a specific type of problem.  Centralized communication structures allow the group to spend less time initially on preliminary organization processes and decisions are usually reached quickly.  On the other hand, groups utilizing a decentralized communication structure will often take more time to get organized. Once a group using a decentralized structure gets organized, it can usually work as efficiently as a group in a centralized structure.

Research has shown that there are important differences between centralized and decentralized communication structures.  Within centralized structures, the individual occupying the center position tends to become the leader regardless of whether or not that person has the necessary qualifications.  That individual is in the position of receiving all the communications and has all the information needed to make decisions.  Leadership in decentralized structures, on the contrary, usually is bestowed upon the member with the best qualifications.  Information is shared with the group members so that all the information needed to make the decision is known.

Centralized structured groups have been found to be less flexible than decentralized structured groups and are best suited to solving simple problems, especially when time is of the essence and the quality of the decision is not of prime importance.  Groups utilizing a decentralized communication structure tend to rely upon the expertise of all its members so the quality of their decisions tends to be higher.

Researchers have also found a difference in the group morale between groups using a centralized communication structure and those utilizing a decentralized structure.  Research has shown that a member’s morale is directly related to how valuable that member feels.  The farther from the center point in a centralized structure a member is, the lower the member’s morale.  In contrast, the members of a group using a decentralized structure tend to have the same morale.  The morale in the latter group is dependent more on the nature of the assigned task and its importance, rather than the individual’s position within the group.

Depending upon the urgency of the problem and the need for quality decisions, leaders will need to weigh the pros and cons of both communication structures.  Both have advantages and disadvantages.  Weigh them both and select the style best suited to the particular problem being addressed.


Performance Appraisals for Difficult Employees – Part I

There may be nothing more a supervisor dreads that having to do a performance appraisal for a difficult employee. You can’t stick your head in the sand, that’s for sure.  But there are some key actions you may consider taking to prepare for the meeting.

The most important thing to remember in dealing with any employee, difficult or not, is that as the supervisor you must focus on the issue or the behavior. Be sure that you’ve taken notes during the review period to recall good job performances and problem issues. If meetings were held to discuss the issues, use your notes to discuss performance issues. Those notes should include the date and time of the meeting, who was present and what was discussed.  If memos were sent to the employee addressing a specific issue, have a copy of those memos available during the review meeting.

Call the meeting for a time that will allow both you and the employee to engage in conversation without distractions. If you can’t get away from the telephone or interruptions in your office, move the meeting to a neutral location such as a conference room. The key here is to insure that both you and the employee can devote full attention to the performance appraisal without having an audience.

Provide a copy of the written performance appraisal to the employee in time to allow the employee to review it before the meeting. Remember when writing the review that your focus must be on specific issues or behaviors. For example, if the employee’s job requires the production of reports within a specific time period, make sure you’ve checked the disclosure rate to determine whether the employee has met the standard. Check the submission dates and times and note the number which were on time and the number which were late.

Stay tuned for Part II – Holding the actual meeting.