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Lincoln Composite Squadron
Civil Air Patrol

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

November 2004
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Civil Air Patrol

Decision-making

Submitted by: Steve Hubbell & Bruce Marxsen, Professional Development Officers, Lincoln Composite Squadron

Lincoln Composite SquadronDecision-making is a basic ingredient of leadership. It is not important whether the leader actually comes up with the proposed action or simply endorses it. It is important that decisions are made to keep moving forward. Applying a systematic method to solving problems or making decisions is essential in everything we do in life. Decisions to be made are not always of a critical nature. Most decisions are considered so routine, the individual may not be aware a decision was made.

The dimensions of decision-making are based on the effectiveness of the decision, the acceptance of the decision, and the importance placed on a commitment to a solution based on the decision. A good decision is a balance between the three. The nature of the decision will be between moral, ethical and practical concerns. The decision turns critical when there is a conflict with one or more of the moral, ethical, and practical issues; especially when there is pressure to make a 'good' decision. No matter the nature or need of the decision, good, solid reasoning should back the decision.

Individual Decision-making:

Individual decision-making is a combination of art and science. The individual decision is made through intuition and analytical skill.

- Intuition is the ability to know or feel something without logic or reason

  • Intuition creates the ideas for solving the problem or making the decision
  • Intuition solves the 'why' the decision has to be made

- Analytical skill is the ability to use logic to examine and measure the problem

  • Analytical skill examines the ideas presented by the intuition
  • Analytical skill solves the 'how' the decision is made

A good individual decision is based on the information at hand, the sensitivity to the situation and rational, logical thought. Therefore, a bad decision can be attributed to a combination of the following:

  • Not enough information
  • A lack of sensitivity or real perception of the situation
  • A lack of rational or logical thought

When the individual does not have enough information to make a good decision, nor the correct perception of the situation, or is lacking a rational thought process, there are six decision strategies that are used consciously or unconsciously:

- Minimization- we select a course of action based on a minimum set of requirements

"All we have to do is take our time and drive carefully in this snow storm"

- Justification- we select a course of action based on a moralized justification

"I am running late and I cannot afford to spend more time at another red stop light, so before this yellow light turns red, I will try to squeeze through"

- Muddle Through- we choose small incremental courses of action, instead of a more thought out plan that will take more time

"By the time we get to the city, we will decide what hotel we want to stay at"

- Scanning- we look over a problem and choose only the most important aspect to work on

"The biggest problem we will face on this mission is staying awake while driving to the search area"

- Denial- we eliminate the problem by denying it exists, usually when the stress level is high

"Driving on the Interstate at night is easy, because the traffic is less congested than during the day and all vehicles are all going in the same direction"

- Optimizing- we consider a wide range of choices and weigh each of the consequences, which takes time to do.

This is the ideal strategy to use for making good decisions.

Making individual decisions is a vital part of every leader's job. Of course, some decisions are easier than others. Here are some ways to make an individual decision when the pressure is on:

  • Maintain realistic expectations for yourself and be honest in identifying the problems before you.

  • Do not take unnecessary action when the best course of action may be to do nothing at all.

  • Few decisions are irreversible, and a firm decision that is later changed is better than no decision at all, or maintaining a bad decision. The key is to make the best decision, based on the best information at the time, and then monitor the results of your action.

  • Use time wisely. A delay in making a decision could be disastrous. It is important to face the decision when you have the time to gather input and information. If you delay, there is a potential to find yourself with fewer options when you are forced to decide. On the other side, do not make 'snap' decisions unless absolutely necessary.

  • Do not lump your decisions together. Examine each, one at a time and give it your full attention. When you attempt to make too many decisions at once or under the scope of one decision for all, you will find you can do little justice to any.

  • Explore all your options. Do not limit yourself to traditional solutions just because they have worked before. Look for creative ways to make a decision or solve a problem.

  • Look outside for ideas and opinions. The best information will come from those who work closest to the problems. Their insights may give you the valuable information you need to make the right decision.

  • Have confidence in your ability to make a good decision, and never fool yourself by choosing solutions that are easy and comfortable, but fail to solve your problem.

  • Sometimes it is important to distance yourself from the stress of the situation. Take a few moments to relax. You will be better able to approach the problem from a fresh (or different) perspective, to make a good decision.

  • Like everything else, your decision-making skills will improve with practice. There are few decisions that can come out of a book or flow-chart. Take advantage of opportunities to make low-level decisions and observe how they turn out. Identify the pitfalls of decision-making and learn to make good decisions with time.

  • Learn the difference between decisions that require a 'cool head' or a 'warm heart'. Be able to distinguish the difference between practical and personal matters. Recognize what your heart is saying in personal matters and what your head is saying in practical matters. Then teach yourself to focus on the immediate situation and deal with other associated problems at the appropriate time.

Occasionally a poor decision will be made. Nobody expects you to be perfect. Hold on to your principles of trying to do what is right. What counts is how well you handle the situation when a poor decision is made. After all, sometimes a poor decision is better than no decision at all.

Group Decision-making:

Group decision are usually made in some very abstract methods, resulting in less than ideal solutions:

  • Decision by Lack of Support- (the Plop Method)- This is the most common group decision method where an individual will make a suggestion, but instead of a discussion someone else mentions what they think is a better idea (plopping the original suggestion to the ground with no support). Without proper group decision rules, this continues on with every idea getting bumped without discussion and rejected by the group. Presenters of the ideas will get discouraged and usually the last suggestion that is not bumped will be selected out of frustration and discouragement.

  • Decision by Negative Support- (the Contrary Method)- This is the second most common group decision method where a suggestion is made, but one or more people will attack stating only the negative aspect of the idea, instead of a balanced discussion of the positive and negative. Similar to the Plop Method, without proper decision rules this can continue on until the idea or suggestion with the fewest negative attacks will be selected with no discussion on the positive aspect of any previous ideas.

  • Decision by Minority Rule- (the Railroad Method)- This group decision method is brought about by a combination of members who although in a minority, have an opinion and they are not afraid to verbalize it. In order for this method to be used, the group also needs to have some members that are lacking confidence and believe that the more something is verbalized, the more it must be right. In this method, silence is interpreted as consent.

  • Decision by Majority Rule- (the Poll and Vote Method)- The most familiar group decision method, where following a period of discussion the group's opinion is polled or voted on. This is the method used most often when time is critical. Although, this method seems sound, such decisions are more often than not difficult to implement, because those voting against the idea do not feel ownership to the solution and will only half-heartedly support the implementation.

  • Decision by Authority Rule- (the Leader Decides Method)- This group decision method is usually doomed to fail in the quality and implementation of the decision. This method will usually become apparent in the first few minutes of discussion as an assigned or self-appointed leader will often step forward to press for a decision due to a critical time element. Whether this method is good or not depends on if the 'authority' taking control of the situation has listened and culled the right information on which the decision is to be made. Usually such a decision is made because the group has to, not necessarily that they want to.

  • Decision by Consensus- (the Best Method)- This group decision method is effective, but the most time-consuming. Although the group may be able to reach a consensus it is important to realize it is likely not a unanimous decision. Consensus is a state of affairs where communications have been sufficiently open and the group has been generally supportive to every discussion point. In this method, everyone must feel that they have had a chance to be heard and a chance to influence the outcome. Because a unanimous decision is rare, a consensus decision is usually the best, if there is enough time to reach consensus.

Group Decision-Making Steps:

  1. Identify and clarify the problem, but initially avoid references to possible solutions. In this stage, any reference to solutions while stating the problem will lead to early disagreement and prevent the group from making meaningful progress.

  2. Isolate the most basic cause(s) to the problem you are facing, separating the influencing from the non-influencing factors.

  3. Solicit as many alternative solutions to the problem as possible from each member, without discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each. The focus should be on getting everyone's input to possible solutions.

  4. Identify criteria the desired solutions must meet, and then select one or more options for action.

  5. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each, using only positive commentary. Negative commentary should be discouraged or ignored if heard.

  6. Reach a tentative agreement and allow each member to openly, but briefly discuss the points they agree or disagree with.

  7. Seek a consensual contract based on each member's points, making adjustments as necessary.

  8. Clarify the contract to ensure everyone clearly understands what the agreement is. It is a summation that will rule out possible misinterpretation of expectations from the group.

  9. Implement the decision.

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