Decision Making Process

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Date: November 10, 2011



Decisions are at the heart of leadership success, however managers tend to treat decisions as events. But in fact decision making is a process that plays out over days, weeks, maybe even months, one that is charged with politics, personal conflicts; that needs to be backed up by each level in the organization in order to be implemented. In this paper the leader decision making-process will be explored, through an example concerning the resolution of the deep water horizon disaster (BP Oil spill), presided over by President Barack Obama and Tony Hayward (Ex-CEO of BP).[1] Then, we will see how decision processes can come along - either through advocacy or inquiry. Following that, the paper will discuss how leaders can draft a robust decision-making process, that has healthy conflicts, consideration of the opinions of others and closing on a decision at the appropriate time. Finally, it will show how the decision-making process impacts leaders, followers, and the organization as a whole.

Example: BP-Oil Spill
On April 20th, 2010 an oil rig belonging to British Petroleum (BP) blew up[2]. Even though several parties (BP, US Cost Guard, US. Government, among others)[3] were involved with the tackling of the oil leak, it kept on spilling for nearly three months. This was because of poor leader decision-making by President Obama, the Executives of BP and the others involved. In disasters like this, leaders tend to lead the way, by forming an expert team of advisors to solve the issue.

Decision Making in teams can be facilitated either by inquiry approach, or advocacy approach. In an inquiry approach, the group considers a variety of options, as a means of healthy debate and, using this approach, they work out the best solution. This process focuses on collaboration and not on forceful persuasion. Intense conflicts do arise, but they are non-personal. People share unbiased information widely, so that as a group, these ideas can be challenged. Open-minded decision-making approaches promote solutions of a higher quality and more efficient implementation strategy.

In an advocacy approach, decision-making is seen through a competitive lens. Members tend to believe that persuasion and convincing others is the main goal. This behavior often leads to situations in which group members put their egos and self-interests first. This causes a win-lose situation, which might lead to contra-effective behavior like, blaming the other party, withholding information, ignoring opposing arguments and presenting data that only support the opinion in question.

Advocacy - BP Oil Spill
During the crisis management of the BP oil spill, advocacy behavior between government and company leaders could clearly be identified: Decision making was ineffective in controlling and cleaning up the spill. Disasters like this highlight the breakdown of interdependence and common responsibilities among leaders: Obama failed at addressing the issue effectively. He reacted politically, and put the blame entirely on BP and avoided cooperation with the oil company to jointly solve the issue[4]. It took Obama 12 days to show up in the region.[5] Cooperation between Team Obama and Team BP came 50 days after the day of the spill[6]. Team BP, also failed in this decision making process: the CEO of BP undermined the issue by stating, that the ocean is big enough to absorb the oil damages.[7] In addition, BP withheld crucial information from the US government and from the public[8], which caused a further delay and breakdown with the decision making process.

There are 3 C’s that shape the process of leader decision-making.

Conflict is crucial for decision-making. “Critical thinking and rigorous debate invariably lead to conflict”[9] This means leaders must overcome conflict smoothly to make an effective decision. There are two kinds of conflict,...
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