In-the-moment leadership: decisions happen backwards

In the moment leadership

Often, we think of decisions forwards. Setting up a good process, qualifying the decision, risk- and consequence-checking possible decisions. That sort of thing.

Very rarely do we think backwards and see how we actually and truly make decisions. It creates a completely different picture. A picture where the proposal mentioned first often ends up being the decided one, where relational and positional attention and vulnerability fill more than the content, and where we believe we are more open than we actually are.

Think of a recent decision. A meeting where you had to schedule the upcoming shifts, or a conversation where you had to find a replacement for Thursday. Or something else.

Before the meeting or conversation, and certainly in the narrative afterwards, you probably have a forward narrative about the decision and the process to it. “We explored various options,” “we sought the most qualified,” “we ran an open-close process.” That sort of thing.

But now take an actual decision from recently and try to omit all the abstract, and look backwards at what actually and practically happened.

Confirmation: It ended with someone saying, “Well, that’s how we’ll do it.”

Affirmation: Preceding the confirmation – where you spoke in a budding agreement and where there were omissions of anything that could bring spark and friction in.

Initiation: Preceding the affirmation – where what later turned out to be the decision was put forward first.

Occasion: Preceding the initiation – where it became practically possible to suggest something.

Reversed, as it actually occurred (which is not the formalized and structured process we think we followed), a normal sequence of decisions looks like this:

First, there are occasions to seize to initiate a decision. Then there is initiation (which formally just looks like a proposal or a similar expression when it emerges). Then there is confirmation, where what eventually appears to be the decision is spoken forth in ways so everyone is legitimately included.

Finally, there is confirmation, where it is named as a decision for the first time.

Practically, the outcome of looking backwards at decisions often looks something like this:

  • The first person to seize an occasion practically sets the framework for how to approach the decision.
  • The first proposal made will typically also be the initiating one – and thus ultimately – the final decision.
  • The affirmation often focuses less on the decision itself and more on ensuring everyone feels listened to and can see themselves in the decision.
  • There will be many seemingly opening statements (“is there more to the point?” “that’s a good suggestion, does anyone else have anything?” etc.), which, out of consideration for the relational and positional, and in the desire not to appear too counter-active, are not answered or only answered in hints. It appears as if there is consensus.

In in-the-moment leadership, more emphasis is placed on such a backward-based real view of decisions, and the conversations and meetings they emerge in, than in the formal and abstract forward process view. This means concretely that the moment leader is mindful of establishing escape routes in the order that otherwise sets itself from occasions and initiating decisions to confirmation.

It’s about creating escape routes throughout the sequence so there can be opportunities for other occasions than the one that will establish itself as a decision.

You should therefore:

  • Create escape routes already at occasions. Perhaps by starting in unfamiliar ways?
  • Create escape routes in the initiation. Maybe ask for unexpected proposals or initially forbid the most obvious?
  • Create escape routes in the affirmation so it actually doesn’t become an affirmation, but something else. Perhaps insist on multiple simultaneous scenarios, or ask the most eager advocate to play Devil’s Advocate?
  • Create escape routes in the confirmation. Maybe talk less about the decision itself and more about obligations and involvement?

In general; aim for life, freshness, and movement in every moment, so that the inherent culturally conditioned recognizability in the entire decision cadence doesn’t take over.