Decision Making Styles

As a leader you're stuck with decision making. It's your job to make decisions that are in the best interest of the whole organization. You must consider the good of many, not of a few. This is a big responsibility and very often people don't appreciate your efforts. In fact, many times people get angry at you because of the decisions you make to help them! Let's take a moment and discuss decision making style. Not the decision itself, but style. As you read the descriptions below, consider the style you most often use and ask yourself if you consistently use the proper style for each situation.

Democratic decision making is when the leader gives up ownership and control of a decision and allows the group to vote. Majority vote will decide the action. Advantages include a fairly fast decision, and a certain amount of group participation. The disadvantage of this style includes no responsibility. An individual is not responsible for the outcome. In fact, even the group feels no real responsibility because some members will say, "I didn't vote for that.". Lack of group and personal responsibility seems to disqualify this style of decision making; however, the democratic style does have its place in business.

Autocratic decision making is when the leader maintains total control and ownership of the decision. The leader is also completely responsible for the good or bad outcome as a result of the decision. The leader does not ask for any suggestions or ideas from outside sources and decides from his or her own internal information and perception of the situation. Advantages include a very fast decision, and personal responsibility by the leader, for the outcome. If an emergency situation exists, the autocratic style is usually the best choice. The disadvantages are varied and sometimes include less than desired effort from the people that must carry out the decision. If the employee is personally affected by the decision but not included when the decision is made, morale and effort may or may not suffer. It is not always predictable. If the outcome for the decision is not positive, members of the organization begin to feel they could have done a better job themselves and the leader may lose credibility.

Collective - Participative decision making is when the leader involves the members of the organization. Other perspectives of the situation are discovered because the leader deliberately asks and encourages others to participate by giving their ideas, perceptions, knowledge, and information concerning the decision. The leader maintains total control of the decision because, although outside information is considered, the leader alone decides. The leader is also completely responsible for the good or bad outcome as a result of the decision. The advantages include some group participation and involvement. This is especially valuable when a person is affected negatively by the decision. In most cases, the individual is informed before the decision is implemented (no surprises) and usually feels good about personal involvement. If the leader is a good communicator, and listens carefully to the information collected, he or she will usually have a more accurate understanding of the situation and make a better decision. The disadvantages of this style include a fairly slow, time consuming decision; less security, because so many people are involved in the decision.

Consensus decision making is when the leader gives up total control of the decision. The complete group is totally involved in the decision. The leader is not individually responsible for the outcome. The complete organization or group is now responsible for the outcome. This is not a democratic style because everyone must agree and "buy in" on the decision. If total commitment and agreement by everyone is not obtained the decision becomes democratic. The advantages include group commitment and responsibility for the outcome. Teamwork and good security is also created because everyone has a stake in the success of the decision. A more accurate decision is usually made, with a higher probability of success, because so many ideas, perspectives, skills and "brains" were involved in the creation. The disadvantages include a very slow and extremely time consuming decision. It is also a lot of work getting everyone in the organization involved. It takes skill and practice for a group to learn how to work together.

© 1997 Leadership Management Development Center, Inc.

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