This post is co-authored by Kathy Simpson.
“understanding the true nature of instinctive decision making requires us to be forgiving of those people trapped in circumstances where good judgment is imperiled.” ― Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
As leaders, setting up a structure that helps us navigate decisions under pressure is of the utmost importance. When writing and delivering software we rely on our continuous integration (CI) infrastructure and test suites to tell us when a test is failing and code should not be merged.
As leaders, before acting or making decisions it would be nice to have a set of tests and checks, established ahead of time, to make sure we are in the right headspace to think, behave and make decisions that are in the best interest of everyone and our company. There are devastating consequences to taking actions based on fear and pride; we hope this set of questions enables taking action based on growth, humility, inclusion, and soulful reflection.
The following are the sets of questions we brainstormed, but expect them to change over time as we experience and deal with new problems. These were started in a gist and are copied below. The diff of this post and the gist will serve as the evolution of this thought process.
It’s important to note that in some instances answering all the questions might take too much time. Perhaps prioritizing the most important ones in the moment would be more effective.
Answering all the questions may be a luxury at times, so we suggest breaking them down based on the situation you find yourself in: prioritize the most important ones to your role, have a few ‘go to’ questions, or categorize them based on the situations you find yourself in more often. The important part of this list is to help us navigate a difficult situation while still maintaining the integrity we intend for ourselves as leaders.
Do I want to die on this hill?
Pass: This is morally good and if not handled has long term consequences.
Fail: This is self serving.
Am I including everyone?
Pass: My ego is not driving this conversation.
Fail: The people in this conversation will only tell me I’m right and not push back.
Am I hiding something?
Pass: The information, though painful, is known to all.
Is there transparency here?
Pass: The team agrees on context and can repeat it back to me.
Fail: Hidden misalignment (test: what do we align on).
Am I being curious?
Pass: I’m asking questions that make me uncomfortable, and I’m comfortable being wrong.
Fail: I want my way.
Is my team afraid to tell me things?
Pass: They freely and continually come to me with answers and information that they know I will not like.
Fail: They go to each other or people outside the team with the information, and telling me what they think I want to hear.
Am I only communicating with the same people over and over?
Pass: My sphere of influence is diverse. I feel comfortable talking with anyone on the team.
Fail: I continually consult the same individuals (test: do I have entourage?).
Do I feel insecure?
Pass: I feel empowered and am willing to take feedback and risks regardless of the outcome as it’s good for the company and the customer.
Fail: I retreat, I am not comfortable, I am not giving up the information because I am scared of what people will think.
Can my team do the job I hired them to do? Is the job they are hired to do the job that needs to be done?
Pass: The team ships outcomes efficiently.
Fail: The team is not empowered and often stalls (test: do I often have to intervene?).
Are you scratching an itch?
Pass: This is a problem that’s bigger than myself.
Fail: It may feel good to solve this problem but only for myself and temporarily.
Am I being judgmental?
Pass: Do I trust my team and their decisions?
Fail: Is someone speaking up and telling me that I’m being judgmental?
Am I taking risks?
Pass: I feel comfortable and confident that this decision will lead to positive and fruitful outcomes.
Fail: I am being a pushover, and I am compromising in the wrong ways.
Am I being manipulative?
Pass: I’m being honest, real, straightforward and I’m OK with the outcome and hearing ‘no’.
Fail: I’m intentionally using words that aren’t representative of what I’m trying to communicate.
Am I speaking for people or letting them speak for themselves?
Pass: I am doing the minority of the speaking and people are disagreeing with my opinions.
Fail: I am being quoted back to myself. I am talking the majority of the time.
Be sure to keep up with the original gist as well to see how this list evolves!