Drucker and Obama on decision making

What can management guru Peter Drucker tell us about how to avoid billion-dollar mistakes?

I wanted to follow up on my previous posting about the book "Billion Dollar Lessons" with some further ideas from co-author Chunka Mui about how to avoid becoming yet another example of a billion-dollar strategy gone wrong.

Since today is inauguration day, here's a quote from president Barack Obama that illustrates one of the challenges of leadership:

One of the dangers in a White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in groupthink. Everybody agrees with everything. There's no discussion. There are no dissenting views.

I don't believe this is exclusively an issue in government. It happens in business among CEOs routinely. Any leader can fall into the trap of surrounding themselves with yes men, whether deliberately or through their actions. If the standard response to questions is defensiveness or a request to just "get on board," managers quickly learn to keep quiet about their concerns.

Mui raises a quote from Peter Drucker to illustrate the issue:

Decisions of the kind the executive has to make ... are made well only if based on conflicting views, the dialogue between different points of view, the choice between different judgements.

Drucker's quote looks self-evident when removed from the day-to-day realities that consume management attention. But it's surprising how frequently complex decisions are made without a thorough understanding of all relevant sides of an issue. While there are many times when you must have decisive action by a leader, it's equally important to ensure that there are mechanisms in place whereby different viewpoints can be discussed.

In my experience, the best solutions have emerged from a synthesis of ideas representing multiple different view points. If you can create a culture where input is welcomed in decision making, that's the best. Not everyone will agree with every decision, but they will respect the process. And it's likely you'll avoid blunders that might otherwise be obvious in hindsight.

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