Make Decisions Inclusively


To build trust as you lead, make decisions inclusively. As much as possible, involve those who will be affected. Colleagues who differ from you by identity points like gender or race, in particular, will scrutinize your decision-making: how you make decisions, how you involve those impacted, and the results of your decisions. Why? Because decision making is a function of leadership where your character is revealed and your use of power is interpreted.

Are you clear with your direct reports, peers, and manager, about how and when decisions get made? For key decisions, make sure the stakeholders to the decision understand and accept the method for decision-making. Here are six ways to make decisions, in descending order of their potential for inclusion:

  • A self-directed team decides: With high-performing individuals and teams, there are times when you can delegate decisions and implementation. You are informed of their decision and their progress, but they are responsible for getting the work done and achieving results. If they need your input along the way as their manager, they can be trusted to come to you.
  • Team decides by consensus: Here’s where the group decides. It’s a useful approach when the decision will affect everyone, when relevant information is available, and when each person on the team (including you as the manager) can openheartedly agree to an “I can live with that” outcome.
  • Stakeholders vote: When the stakes are not too high and time is short, voting can be an efficient way to get a decision made. Just make sure that those who “lose” the vote are still on board for implementation.
  • You seek input and you decide: Stakeholders need to know upfront that you value the best information and opinions they can provide, and then it is your responsibility as the leader to make the decision. Their job? To advise you, follow your decision, and improve on it if they can.
  • Leaders above us decide: Many decisions are made above us in the organization, and given to us to implement. So we provide context about why the decision was made, and then include our team in figuring out how to get it done.
  • You decide privately: There are times in leadership work (with corrective action or termination, for instance) where you must make the decision, and there may be limits on what you can share. This puts people in the position of following on the basis of whatever trust you’ve established with them. So it’s advisable to use this decision-making method infrequently.

As leaders, each decision we deliver — “We need to decide what we can all live with on this project deadline”, or “Here’s the draft budget we've been given for next year – I need your input so I can go back to my boss”, or “I’ve decided to promote Jamal” — quantifies the promises we make to our direct reports, peers, and manager. Consequently, inclusive decision making generates trust, and the decision is more likely to be implemented successfully.

Clarify how inclusive decisions get made in your sphere of influence, by intentionally using these six methods with your manager, peers, and employees.