At the end of the day, our biggest responsibility as leaders is making decisions. The higher we climb in the leadership ranks, the more complex, difficult, and impactful those decisions become, in some cases even impacting life and limb. Many of the most effective leaders that I’ve worked with realize that decision making doesn’t always need to be a solo performance, despite the fact that at the end of the day, the leader often “owns” the decision and its downstream impacts.
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Advisory versus consensus
Leaders often confuse the power of an advisory board when making a complex decision with “building consensus.” In many western businesses, the rather noble notion of involving affected parties in the decision-making process becomes an enabler for indecision. Leaders can “weaponize” consensus by never committing to a decision, claiming that they’ve not yet achieved consensus.
Advisory is a different animal, engaging peers and even superiors as thought partners and guides in making a decision. Advisors provide information, perspective, and an opportunity to test various potential decision paths, and ultimately enable a leader to make a better decision versus demanding input into the process without having any real accountability.
Building your advisory board
Most of us have information advisors: the person or people we call to talk through a tough decision. This person might not even be in our line of work and could be a spouse, friend, or trusted confidant. The benefit of an advisory board is that it creates a bit of structure, and also forces you to consider who would best fit the role of advisor.
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Start with your network within your company. People who are direct stakeholders or directly impacted by your decisions don’t make good candidates since they will have a vested interest in swaying the outcome of your decision-making. However, a peer or superior in another line of business, or someone with a similar role in an unrelated division or product line can provide an excellent second set of eyes. If the person who previously held your role is still accessible, perhaps having advanced to an unrelated part of the organization, they may also be a good fit.
Look for people who can bring a unique perspective to your decision-making process, or fill one of your skill gaps. If you’re a highly technical leader, perhaps a peer on the marketing side of the business can help incorporate a customer perspective into your decision-making. Similarly, if you occasionally struggle with understanding the operational or financial elements of a decision, look for colleagues from those parts of the business who can act as an advisor.
Ideally, you can create an information advisory board that includes a broad set of competencies and experiences, that ultimately becomes a symbiotic entity. An hour on a video conference every couple of weeks might allow you to get new perspectives and input on a decision and also help a fellow advisor work through a complex technical problem.
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If you can’t find the competencies you need within your company, or the people you attempt to recruit don’t add much value, look carefully outside your organization. Vendors of all stripes will claim to want to be your “trusted advisor,” but it can be challenging to find individuals at the organizations you work with who can truly serve as unbiased thought partners. The benefit of the hard work required to find someone from an external entity who can act in this capacity is that they likely have a broader perspective than what you’ll find within the four walls of your company, and may have even observed other organizations making similar decisions, and thus can provide recommendations based on actual outcomes rather than speculation.
The old adage that two heads are better than one certainly applies to making key decisions, and the ultimate purpose of an advisory board is deploying additional heads on your most challenging problems. If you can create a regular cadence of peers that’s beneficial to all involved, you may find that a few hours each month can dramatically improve your decision-making abilities, and thus your overall capabilities as a leader.