How the Wise Decide: The Lessons of 21 Extraordinary Leaders
Beth Zeckhauser and Aaron Sandoski
Crown Business (2008)
Although quite different in terms of their personality, leadership style, and circumstances, what do the 21 share in common? Zeckhauser and Sandoski spent three years in search of the answer and concluded that all of them make their “tough calls” based six core decision-making principles. Here are two:
Go to the Source: “Making it a routine part of your job to go to the source will require a new mind-set, a realignment of your priorities and the tenacity to pursue firsthand information wherever it may take you. But if you become skilled at using this powerful tool as the three leaders you’re about to meet [i.e. Bill George, Mike Reuttgers, and Orin Smith], you can beat competitors, find new markets, and generate terrific new products.” Other leaders discussed include Paul Galvin (Motorola), John Whitehead (Goldman Sachs), and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer
Listen with Purpose: “Are you listening carefully? Then you’re missing the point. It isn’t how you listen, it’s why you listen that’s important.” Zeckhauser and Sandoski have identified three major purposes leaders have for listening. “The first is listening to gather information.” More specifically, listening “to fill in gaps in the information you already have…Finally, listen with the purpose of generating ownership.” That is, to ensure that the decision once made will be properly executed, first seek out and respect the opinions of others to reassure them that their input is valued. “A great decision that can’t or won’t be executed is no decision at all.” Leaders discussed in this chapter include Vernon Loucks (Baxter Healthcare), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, Bill Riley (World Wildlife Fund), and Rick Wagoner (General Motors).
I urge those who read this review not to be deterred by the fact that all of the 21 exemplary leaders whom Zeckhauser and Sandoski discuss are prominent. Together, it is true, they demonstrate the power and value of the six core decision-making principles but that is because they have mastered those principles and, in most cases, did so only after experiencing one or more of what Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas characterize as “crucibles” in their book, Geeks & Geezers. Centuries ago, metallurgists attempted to transform chemical compounds into gold. Their instrument was a crucible, a cup-shaped receptacle that they heated to very high temperatures. Most managers in today’s business world have already experienced – or will experience — personal tragedies, failures, disappointments, dysfunctional relationships, etc. Some managers emerge from these modern-day “crucibles” stronger, wiser, and better prepared to cope with whatever may await them. Other managers do not. Although Bryn Zeckhauser and Aaron Sandoski make no such claim, I think that mastery of the same six principles can help managers in any organization (whatever its size and nature may be) to avoid or at least emerge from crucible-like experiences. Better yet, they will help managers to become more fully developed human beings as well as more effective leaders.