4 styles of decision-making: A leader's guide

4 styles of decision-making: A leader's guide

Know when to use the different styles of decision-making – and when it's time to try a different approach

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July 27, 2018

3. Conceptual decision-making 

The conceptual decision-making style takes a more social approach compared to the directive or analytic methods. Conceptual decision-makers encourage creative thinking and collaboration and consider a broad array of perspectives. These decision-makers are achievement-oriented and like to think far into the future when making important decisions. 

When to use conceptual decision-making 

Apply conceptual decision-making to problems that involve many competing ideas. This style of decision is best suited for situations characterized by unpredictability and suited to creative and innovative approaches. In these scenarios, you find there is no immediate solution, but patterns emerge over time. Using a conceptual style of decision-making accounts for long-term planning and unknown variables.  

[ Read our related article by Sanjay Malhotra: 5 habits of emotionally intelligent leaders. ]

A leader’s role in conceptual decision-making 

For conceptual decision-making to be effective, leaders need to create an environment that encourages experiments designed to reveal instructive patterns over time. As well, leaders need to make a point of increasing interaction and communication. Create groups of people who can contribute innovative ideas and help with the development and delivery of complex decisions. Patience is key, and leaders need to give themselves time for reflection. 

Signs you need to use a different approach 

If the decision you need to make involves a situation that needs structure and defined outcomes, you shouldn’t use a conceptual approach. As well, decisions that need to drive immediate results and circumstances where there is little room for error do not fall under conceptual decision-making. 

4. Behavioral decision-making 

Behavioral decision-makers try to make sure everyone works well together. Like the conceptual style, behavioral decision-making is group-oriented; however, rather than brainstorming potential solutions, the group is given the options available to them. From there, the group discusses the pros and cons of each choice. This style of decision-making considers many different outlooks and opinions in the process. 

When to use behavioral decision-making 

Like conceptual decision-making, the behavioral style requires proactive communication. This style takes a more introspective approach by discussing solutions that have worked in the past rather than trying to reveal new patterns. 

A leader’s role in behavioral decision-making 

Leaders need to open up lines of communication in this style of decision-making. Again, create groups of people who can contribute their opinions and encourage democratic discussions. When employing the behavioral decision-making style, don’t just impose a course of action. Instead, look at what decision creates the most harmony within the organization. 

Signs you need to use a different approach 

If group discussion sessions never reach an agreement, you may need to consider another approach. In contrast, if new ideas never come up or no one challenges opinions, behavioral decision-making may not be the best option either. While this style of decision works to benefit the group as a whole, it requires a definite and decisive leader to get things accomplished. If necessary, look for ways and experiments to force people to think outside of what’s familiar. 

The most influential leaders learn how to adjust their style of decision-making to suit particular circumstances. Different contexts and situations call for individual managerial responses and sometimes multiple approaches to decision-making. By understanding the various forms of decision-making – and staying aware of warning signs – leaders can learn how to make better decisions in a variety of complex contexts.

[ Leaders, do you want to give your team a greater sense of urgency? Get our free resource: Fast Start Guide: Creating a sense of urgency, with John Kotter. ]


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