The Value of Contrarian Decision Making
In times of emergency and stress it is even more important that decisions are made with the best available information at hand. It takes a strong leader to resist the pressures of the public, the shareholder or co-staff and managers to delay making decisions when they perceive we should. Or, in making decisions that might be against popular convention. It is not to say some decisions do not require immediate action, only that when applicable other approaches should be considered.
One such approach is Contrarian Decision making. While Contrarian may sound negative or even angry, it provides a check and balance to potential situations rather than a “follow the crowd” culture.
Leadership is situational and contingent, meaning that a once successful approach may not work in a different situation. It focuses on thinking gray which means not creating an opinion until you have heard all the facts and opinions. This can be uncomfortable as it means holding on until the decision absolutely must be made.
The Contrarian Approach has two key characteristics:
Many times staff and co workers will bring decisions to the leader out of habit, fear or insecurity. One responsibility of a leader is to build a strong team around them, encouraging, helping, and coaching.
The first characteristic of Contrarian Leadership is to delegate decisions where appropriate. The critical question “Is this decision mine to make or is it the person or group who is bringing this to me?” This does not absolve the leader from being responsible for the decision. It simply puts the trust in the individual or team to make the correct and informed decision.
Decision making is a muscle that grows stronger with use. Appropriately delegating the responsibility with support, allows your team to grow, your organization to be stronger. A side benefit is once your team is trained in this concept the leaders time will be freed up for focus on areas that require their expertise and experience. The key here is the understanding of which decision you can delegate. It will be situational or contingent upon the issue.
The second characteristic is to ask “when does the decision have to be made?” Most managers and bureaucrats have been conventionally trained to not put off decisions, to make them now and allow them to move onto the next task. The leader however, needs to ask when does this decision need to be made, now? 1 hour from now? A day? A month?
Putting off the decision, if possible, allows for the gathering of more information. As time passes situations affecting the decision may change.
The challenge here is to decide when this is not procrastination but a sincere attempt to gather more information. Again, situational and contingent upon the issue.
Dr. Steven Sample author of The Contrarian Guide to Leadership defines this about the process of Contrarian Decision making:
“One must always keep in mind that leadership is an art, not a science. In this sense, leadership is more akin to music, painting and poetry than it is to more routinized endeavors.”
We have seen and will see the benefits and the criticisms of utilizing this approach in our current situation. We should ask ourselves when we might be critical of our leader’s responses, whether they are using this methodology or procrastinating. The difference is subtle but huge for outcomes.