In my professional life, there’s a lot of talk about leadership. One common theme is the idea of the leader’s responsibility to build consensus around a decision before implementing it. Intellectually, this makes perfect sense. But, I recognize that throughout my career, in fact throughout my life, I’ve often had trouble finding the patience to build consensus, genuinely accept other people’s ideas without feeling threatened, and even adjusting course in the process of learning from others. One should not be afraid even to learn from subordinates, children, disinterested third parties, or others whom we might normally be tempted to disregard. Of course, decision-making is different in urgent, fast-moving situations. But, many of life’s important decisions are not urgent and fast moving.
I can think of several specific examples in my career when I could have done better by consulting with others more and welcoming edits as an opportunity for discussion and learning instead of just as criticism or obstructionism. Recently, this lesson was reinforced for me when I really started to understand how it applies to family and other non-work settings as well. You’ve read my post called “Listening.” That’s one small example of how I realized I had a life-long habit of mindlessly making decisions unilaterally. I didn’t even realize I was doing it.
There are so many times in our marriage, for example, when I thought I was seeking TL’s opinion and valuing it, but I actually was not. I started certain discussions with a pre-conceived idea of the parameters of what we should want. I was too inflexible and too bad at listening to open up the discussion to questioning those parameters and how we arrived at them.
For example, I remember talking to TL about leaving a particular job in order to take another that I was convinced would be more lucrative. Looking back on it, it may have been the wrong decision. At the time, TL was supportive but apprehensive. At the same time, I was so convinced that the new job would be lucrative that I did not even consider the possibility I was wrong about that. So, TL and I talked about how to take the new job. Thanks to my inappropriate haste and overconfidence, I skipped the important step of thoroughly discussing with TL whether my assumptions about the new job were even correct, and whether taking the new job may require other sacrifices that really were not worth it.
The other night I was trying to figure out why I struggled so much with consultative decision-making and accepting advice from others. As you may have guessed by now, it occurred to me that it probably came from my mother, in two ways. First, I didn’t have any decision-making power or experience as a child and adolescent. I couldn’t decide what to wear, what to eat, what to do, and so many other things. When I finally did get the freedom to make my own decisions, I hoarded it. Second, I learned how to make decisions by watching my parents. I was never included in a decision. In fact, my parents never included anyone else in their decisions.
There are practical lessons from this. I don’t want to totally deprive my children of the experience of making decisions. Also, I need to continue practicing collaborative decision-making. It is not second nature for me. But, I need to make it second nature.