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Leadership, decision making

Owen Mavengere
chartered accountant
TODAY’S world requires an agile leader who can respond to disruption caused by the constant changes in the internal and external environment.

I do not need to explain what is bringing about the change as this has been extensively dealt with in various documents, books, articles, forums and so on.

I will, however, just mention technology, globalisation, competition, politics, social shifts, customer behaviour, employee expectations and regulations, as some of the drivers of uncertainty that a leader must handle on a day to day basis.

Some of the content in this article is borrowed from South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA}’s CA2025 and Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe (Icaz)’s Future Fit Project. These projects are carefully designed initiatives meant to foster value adding and ethical leaders, therefore, the acumen and skills that are being fostered will add value to this article.

I have heard controversial debates where people apparently attempt to decide on what is worse, a corrupt leader and one that shies away from making decisions.

Of course, corruption is distasteful and goes against our very essence as people. Given my training and the fact that I am currently working for an organisation whose values are responsibility, honesty and integrity, I would say that corruption might be the worst characteristic in a leader.

Having said that, it is important to note that bad decisions or worse still, the avoidance of making decisions at all, also rank high as some of the most undesirable traits in leaders.

Being a good leader goes beyond ethics and decision-making but I cannot go into the other aspects now. Leadership for this article has a bias toward a business leader but the writing is equally applicable to any other leader in other spheres of life as well.

 Decision-making pitfalls

Decisions can be daunting, particularly when you cannot see the whole equation and there are still various unknowns which you are unable to factor in. This is one of the causes of postponing or delaying a decision.

Unfortunately, we do not always have the latitude to wait for the picture to become clearer as a result of other changes happening in and outside our organisations.

One should definitely make a decision with as much information as possible, but there has to be a balance between waiting for additional information and missing out altogether. It is of paramount importance that a leader be able to make good decisions very quickly.

Making a bad decision or delaying one, until it is too late often results in loss of value for the organisation and often undermines the authority of the leader as the followers or staff start to question their leader’s ability.

This is often compounded by the fact that the followers or staff will have the benefit of certain information which has not filtered through to the top, and thus would know the particular decision that needs to be made.

With the benefit of this information, when a bad decision or none is made, it becomes difficult for staff to understand. This gap may result in an informal leader cropping up especially if the group is large.

All of this compounds to the lost value. Most of us can relate to a situation where we were frustrated by a decision or lack of at some point in our careers, particularly before attaining leadership positions.

A leader must ensure that they do not fail to seize an opportunity by not making the decision to go for a venture or option that has presented itself.

We can get caught up in weighing pros and cons until the opportunity closes. Sometimes one can also fail to respond to a threat, address an organisational weakness or take advantage of the entity’s strength.

This will all, once again, result in leakage of value. It is also important to note that rushed and premature decisions are also bad for an organisation and therefore there is a balance that one must strike in their specific circumstances.

 My recommendations

As mentioned I will borrow from SAICA and Icaz frameworks on my proposals on how best today’s leaders can improve on their decision making skills.

Remember that failing on this front is detrimental to an organisation and on the person of the leader. After all, leaders in some instances are not implementers of the decisions, and therefore their performance is mostly centred on making the decisions.

At the outset let me highlight, I believe that there are scenarios, where one can be caught between a rock and a hard place. In fact, usually these are situations that most leaders of large organisations often have to deal with as the fairly straight-forward decisions are handled by mid-level managers/leaders.

In such a scenario the option taken should, if possible, be reviewed after a given period and consider reconfiguration or continuation on the path selected. As for effective decision making, according to the frameworks a leader must possess some of the following skills: –

Analytical/critical thinking — Research, investigate, critically analyse, reflect and apply professional judgement to the evaluation of data and information from a variety of sources and perspectives.

Integrated thinking — Integrative thinking is a decision making approach for complex problems based on finding new, creative solutions rather than merely choosing the best solution from a list of alternatives.

Problem solving — Collate and compare information from multiple sources to correctly define a problem, assess alternative solutions against decision criteria and make the optimal decision.

Judgement and decision making — The ability to make considered and effective decisions, come to sensible conclusions, perceive and distinguish relationships, understand situations, and form objective opinions.

Professional scepticism — Having a questioning mind. Being alert to anything that may indicate misstatement due to error or fraud. One must critically assess given information.

Admittedly, there are still additional areas to touch therefore this topic will require further breakdown in order to fully deal with all the aspects and this will be done in future publications.

  • Owen Mavengere is the technical manager at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe (Icaz), which is the largest and longest standing PAO in Zimbabwe, having been established on 11 January 1918, and is a body corporate incorporated under the Chartered Accountants Act [Chapter 27:02]. ICAZ provides leadership on the development, promotion, and improvement of the accountancy profession focusing in the areas of accounting education, assurance, good governance practices and leadership and organizational excellence. — technical@icaz.org.zw or twitter: @OwenMavengere.

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