Taking Orders versus Making Decisions

10 Feb

What are the differences between taking orders and making decisions? To be honest that’s just the introduction, a far more important question is- what are the effects on organisations where people in leadership roles prioritise taking instruction over making decisions?

When someone waits for orders they are naturally passive, and this defines what they do between receiving orders. Frequently we see those that wait for instruction focused on procedures, processes and basically the operation of people, teams and departments. So this is what gets grown culturally- a focus on keeping things ticking over and waiting. The cognitive experience could be likened to waiting at an airport departure lounge-indefinitely. There is food, shelter, warmth, people to talk to, places to eat and shop and the promise of soon flying off to an exciting destination. However, the anxiety and apathy sets in as everyone starts to wonder-will that plane ever arrive? This is how I would describe a culture based on leaders taking orders.

The natural by product of this environment is uncertainty- people are not quite sure whether their actions are moving in the right or wrong direction. So, the only thing which remains a certainty is to keep things ticking over, keep working those procedures and processes; at least everyone knows that is a not a wrong thing to do in this environment. Of course this has a major effect on creativity and innovation; no one is quite sure where to locate new ideas, what frame to assess them by.

Decision making by contrast requires leadership. It is cognitively opposite to taking orders as it requires constructing sense from uncertainty, focusing on the cues and patterns which count, anticipating there ( the cues and patterns) relevance to the future and then acting\ planning to act. The mental model this produces is the vision- an expectancy of how the future will play out, what could affect that future playing out and how to mitigate it, and of course how to actually get there. When this is communicated across people, teams and groups it effectively announces the plane arrival time, people can start making their own plans toward the departure desk- they can act with initiative and full knowledge of what are productive or inappropriate courses of action.

A rule of thumb- if a decision creates widespread uncertainty without the accompanying means and distributed vision as to how to manage that uncertainty, it is a decision made too soon. A thorough analysis of risk, applying methods such as prospective hindsight, will assist the location of potentially toxic uncertainty; but this analysis is essential for providing people with a frame of reference to make sense of actions. This frame could be as simple as what to look out for, but it generates initiative, allows people to problem solve within boundaries, and innovate.

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