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Iterative Decision Making, pages 191-194

Part Two: Leadership Tactics, 2. Leadership Skills, D. Iterative Decision Making, (pages 191-194)

D. Iterative Decision Making

Analysis paralysis is the term coined to define a leader's inability to decide because of an overwhelming amount of information. The opposite is also troubling, making a decision based on little information. In either situation, bad things are bound to occur due to no decision or a hasty one. “As a leader, you have to learn to let situations develop, to allow things to unfold enough that you have a clear picture of what is happening.” An iterative decision-making process can be used for this purpose. “…I looked at the situation and made small decisions to move toward a direction that aligned with my best guess on what the situation was, without overcommitting.” While the iterative decision-making technique is contrary to being decisive, it does afford more protection from making wrong decisions. By not overcommitting, there is room to change direction if necessary.


“Better a long decision than a wrong decision” is a saying that I use with my new administrators. Too often, new principals will make knee-jerk decisions without taking the time to fully understand the situation. This is not done because the leader is lacking but rather because the leader is making hundreds of decisions a day and more times than not, those that are asking some are not patient. However, nothing will doom a new administrator quicker than consistently wrong decisions. Stating that “you do not know” or “let me think about that and I’ll get back to you” are powerful tools that the new administrator needs to utilize more often than not. The key though is to think about it and get back in touch. If you don’t, the outcome will be just as detrimental as making the wrong decision. By not getting back in touch, you are not respecting their time and effort and eventually, they will stop being involved. Even after thinking about a situation and you still don’t have a decision, making a smaller decision is a good first step. I call them adaptive decisions. You make a small decision, look at the outcome, then make another small decision. You proceed with this until you have solved the problem or a clear course of action becomes apparent. For example, let's say you are a new elementary principal and a highly respected veteran teacher asks you to change math textbooks. Your district does allow for building level control of this type. You are a former high school history teacher and not familiar with all of the math requirements at the elementary level. Do you say yes to the veteran teacher because they are highly respected? Or, do you say no because you feel you are not qualified? I would suggest a third option. An adaptive decision. Offer the veteran teacher that if you can acquire the new math materials, would they pilot them just in their class and periodically report back to the rest of the building on how the materials are working out. By making a smaller adaptive decision, you empower the veteran teacher while giving you the necessary time to get up to speed on the math and allowing for data to be gathered. At the end of the semester/year, with the veteran teacher's data and input from the rest of the building, a collaborative decision can be made on whether or not to change math textbooks. Either way, you have listened, learned, and led.

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© 2019 by Erik Bentzel. 

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