Thursday, September 19, 2013

Decision-making and management

Yesterday, we had our professional development meeting. This is for the librarians, and we talk about issues that surround moving up in your career, libraries generally, or management issues. The reality of the meeting is that it's a chance to sit around and think bigger thoughts than we tend to do in staff meetings, where all we talk about is systems, schedules, conferences, etc. I really like the professional development meetings.

Anyway, so  yesterday we all read an article about decision-making, and how people tend to make decisions with their "guts" and how that's really a terrible way to make a decision. We talked about why institutions will sometimes get themselves in trouble over a poorly made or impetuous decision, and how individual personalities and politics are usually wrapped up in that. We also talked about how decisions can be made by thinking that you only have two choices, when in reality you may have four extra choices that you're not seeing because you're too close to the issue in the heat of the moment.

This discussion led me to think of my past bosses, and how I tend to be as a boss (or as part of a project team). When I was younger, I was a true drama-creator. I would blow something way out of proportion and then eventually I'd sit back and say "what the...? Get a grip on yourself." But by then it was usually too late.

In my second "real" job, I had a boss who, while he didn't cure me of this tendency, certainly gave me the tools to keep it in check. He did it by example. Whenever someone came to him with a crisis, his first move was to say "let's think about this" and we'd sit down and talk through the scenarios. If you asked him about something less critical, he would always listen to the whole spiel, then say "great, I'm going to give this some thought and I'll get back to you." He always made a decision, but he also always made his decisions after giving the matter some consideration. There was no wringing of hands and discussing the matter ad nauseum, and also no brusquely telling people that his way was the best and then being afraid to back down. Consequently, he really was the best boss I ever had. And not just because he took the time to make decisions, but because he was a fantastic example of how to make decisions well.

Now, obviously, you could have someone who took time to make decisions and then made poor decisions. I think the genius of his approach was that he not only gave himself time to make the decision, but he gave me (and my peers) time to give the matter more thought. So when I came back to him the next day, he would tell me what he thought and I would have new things to say, and we could come to an agreement with some distance and with calm minds. Even today, when I am about to send an email, I will hold onto that email for 20 minutes or so, come back to it, and re-evaluate.

Decision-making is hard, being a boss is hard, but it was so great to get to work under someone who refused to see his job as putting out fires. I think he saw his job as never letting the fires get started in the first place.

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"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.