Volume 4, Issue 8

August 2015

Blue Ridge Conference

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October 14 - 16, 2015

Blue Ridge Conference on Leadership

Black Mountain, NC

The Foundational Task of a Leader is Deciding Who Does What

There is an apocryphal story involving Peter Drucker. After making a presentation, he solicited questions from the audience. Mr. Drucker had become the guru for studying and analyzing leaders and leadership and this particular presentation was one of the last he gave nearing the end of decades of study and dialogue. Whether this event actually happened is unimportant when compared to profound truth that it expresses about leadership. Mr. Drucker was asked "what is the most important thing a leader does?” After squinting his eyes and pausing for thought, his response was "decide who does what."

Such a simple statement to define a fundamental precept. Deciding "who" leads naturally to what is done, how it is done, and when it is done. And implicit in "who" is an understanding of why it is done. Whether you are the one “who” has emerged only a few times or several times as a leader, introspection and reflection leads to the clear truth of this statement. It also shows how important the leader is since the selection of “who”, even if it is the leader himself or herself, starts the natural process of leadership. All of us make many decisions all of the time, most of which are on a subconscious level. We all know that avoiding a decision or deferring a decision is a decision. For the leader having to exercise this leadership task, the process of reaching that decision is paramount.

A review of the various decision processes offered by theorists and practitioners leads one to conclude that, although the number of steps proposed by the person pronouncing the decision process might be different in number, the decision process usually is expressed as a series of steps. Note: It is a mistake to suggest that these sequential steps are, in fact, sequential and linear. In fact, they are nonlinear. The initial mistake of assuming that they are linear can lead to a poor decision. Nevertheless, the steps include (1) identifying the problem/decision/ framing of the issue, (2) collecting information, data, and ideas to address the identified issue, (3) analyzing the data, (4) identifying options for resolution of the problem as the optimal option, (5) stating a precise expression of that selection, (6) marshaling resources to implement it, and (7) monitoring the outcome to determine (8) whether future modification or adaptation is necessary.

What is sometimes overlooked, even by the leader, is the even more preliminary decision as to whether the leader should make this decision privately or consult others in the analysis, gathering, and selection steps. The decision to consult with others is fundamental to the implementation of the process of decision-making. If the decision is made to individually decide, while the process is the same, individual biases and heuristics can result in a poor decision. Those particular pitfalls are subject for a whole different narrative.

Assuming the decision is made to consult with others, selection of those individuals is crucial. Those individuals may or may not include who will be doing what but there is strong inclination that the persons consulted will narrow the field as to who does what. Other individuals may be brought into the process as it proceeds. For instance, experts may be consulted in the analysis phase. One of those experts may become a candidate for the "who" that does the “what.” But what the leader brings to this decision and the process is the intuition, rationality, passion, experience, and emotional intelligence associated with the decision of the selection of the "who." Mistakes as to the selection and the process for addressing and correcting those mistakes are always running in the background and the potential consequences of a mistake in the selection is a constant consideration. The decision of who does what is a continuous one. From Drucker's fundamental truth emerges an inevitable result. The superb leader, the successful leader, the consummate leader, is the leader who repeatedly is right in deciding who does what.

Frederick Brockmeier

The contributor for August's newsletter is Frederick Brockmeier O.S.V., J.D., Ph.D.

Blue Ridge Conference on Leadership Board Member

Trial Consultant, ProConsul Group 

Faculty, Organizational Leadership Program Northern Kentucky University


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