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Katherine Tyler Scott
Business leader

Katherine Tyler Scott

Katherine Tyler Scott is Managing Partner of Ki ThoughtBridge, a leadership consultancy, and is author, most recently, of Transforming Leadership: The Episcopal Church of the 21st Century. She is a board member of the International Leadership Association.

The president as decider

Q: Bob Woodward's new book on the Obama White House portrays a president so frustrated with top military advisers for their refusal to provide what he considered a reasonable exit strategy from Afghanistan that he devised one himself. How should leaders reconcile the laudable instinct to rely on the advice of experts with the sometimes urgent need to force them to think outside the box?

No leader worthy of the authority invested in him or her would ever rely solely on the judgment of advisers. When advice is solicited, it is rarely done in a vacuum. Considerable thought has been given to the issue; and questions, for which there are no easy answers, have already been formulated by the leader. The leader's ability to engage in the murkiness of complexity and to remain in it long enough to know what questions need to be asked is what sets the most effective leaders apart from those that are least effective.

This president is very logical, thoughtful and deliberative in the way he makes decisions; he doesn't appear to be impulsive or easily swayed by poll numbers grading his likability or direction. There seems to be healthy ability to obtain counsel from smart people who don't always see things the same way and who aren't afraid to express differing opinions. We have also observed over the 19 months that the president has been in the Oval Office that he is secure in what he knows and in what he doesn't know. He seeks advice when needed for purposes of achieving a broader and deeper understanding that will lead to making prudent decisions and right action.

Like the president, leaders are not experts in all matters-their most important assets are intellectual competence and curiosity, reason, moral maturity, an ability to listen, a willingness to learn from experience and the skill to examine and evaluate conflicting ideas and opinions. All of these contribute to a leader having the courage to act.

Responsible advisers realize that their primary role is to give accurate information based on their knowledge, experience and expertise. The leader's responsibility is to listen and weigh all of the data--the issues, challenges, possibilities, risks and the interests of all who will be affected--and to then use criteria that gives ultimate legitimacy to the best option chosen to achieve the desired outcome.

Good leaders don't require advisers to tell them what to do but to be honest and open about what they know, what they think, and who are prepared to explain, with thoroughness, why. When this process of decision-making works, the leader is able to see the issue or problem in panoramic view, and can generate many more possibilities for responding than if only consulting with themselves or relying on the judgment of a few confidantes. This is the leader who is able to connect the dots, see the patterns, and articulate the integration of the data with clarity and credibility.

It isn't only facts that equip a leader to make the wisest decisions; it is the ability to see connections and meaning, and articulate the conclusions in such a way that mobilizes those who must act, to do so with authentic conviction. We now see the consequences originating from a time in which the decisions of leaders, and those who counseled them, were motivated by impulsiveness, short-term gain, immediate gratification and self interest; more than by reason, thoughtful reflection, altruism, long-term economic sustainability and concern for the common good.

A leader who can see the limitations of those in an advisory capacity is priceless!

By Katherine Tyler Scott

 |  September 28, 2010; 2:18 PM ET
Category:  A leader's team , Accomplishing Goals , Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Going down in flames? Do it this way | Next: Respect your advisers

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Good advisors should do two things for the decision maker:
Point out possible courses of action not apparent to the inexpert or uninformed.
Point out limitations within all courses of action.
I can imagine Hannibal calling his subordinate leaders to brainstorm how they could take to war to Rome from their base in Spain.
One guy says, we're a maritime nation, let us load up the army into our ships and make a coastal landing. Problem with that is it leaves our base rather unprotected and ties us to seaborne lines of communication which are vulnerable to Roman raids.
Another guy says, let us stir up the subjugated peoples and create revolt. Yeahhh, but that is really only a distraction and besides, that would take a lot of time and money - if anyone bit.
Last guy says, why not just go over the mountains? They'll never expect it, we'll push the Romans ahead of us so our base is protected, AND we might cause some rebellion by embolding the inhabitants of the lands through which we pass! The problem is that we'll lose a lot of people in the rugged terrain so we won't be as combat effective.
Hannible says, What if we bring elephants, too? Can we feed them for all that time?
Specialist guy says, possibly, if we...

But advisors have to know what the boss wants and yet retain enough individuality to avoid the group-think so fatal to the Bush administration.

Posted by: observer57 | September 29, 2010 1:18 PM
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