Being viewed as a smart decision-maker is a highly desirable trait for leaders. But no matter how smart leaders’ decisions turn out to be, there’s one mistake that drastically undermines their credibility and makes them look like bad decision-makers. And ironically, it’s not their decision-making process per se, but rather how they communicate their decisions.
One of my studies, called “How To Build Trust In The Workplace,” surveyed more than 7,000 people all about why people do, or don’t, trust their leaders. We discovered that a major driver of employees’ trust in their leader was whether they saw their boss as someone who “makes smart decisions.”
But it turned out that ‘making smart decisions’ wasn’t primarily about making decisions that turn out well. For example, it’s not uncommon for someone to make a knee-jerk poorly-considered decision that, through sheer luck, just happens to turn out well.
Instead, for employees to see us as someone who “makes smart decisions,” we have to communicate transparently how we made our decisions. And that’s where many leaders make a big mistake.
Too many leaders think that they need to exude an air of unshakeable confidence and that offering any explanations or rationale behind their decisions will undermine their seeming invincibility. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
If we want our employees to see us as smart decision-makers, we have to transparently share the data and input we used to make our decisions.
Share The Data Behind Your Decisions
Employees like to know that when we make a decision, we’re giving it serious thought; that we’re making decisions based on data as opposed to flying by the seat of our pants. They like to know that we conducted some analysis and used data. That there were some numbers involved.
Especially in today’s world, using data makes us look significantly more credible. Even if the outcome of our decision doesn’t turn out perfectly, if we’ve based that decision on data and analysis, our decision-making ability doesn’t look faulty. Our leadership credibility remains largely intact if we share with our employees the data and analysis we used to make our decisions.
Of course, the reverse is also true. If we look like the person who doesn’t care about data, like we’re willfully ignorant of the available data, research and analysis, it’s awfully hard for employees to trust our decision-making ability.
Explain What Input Drove Our Decisions
For employees to trust our decision-making capabilities, they will need to understand that we’ve gotten input from the right people, critical stakeholders, appropriate experts, etc.
If we’re making a decision, for example, that’s going to impact something we do with our customers, our employees want to know that we’ve gotten input from said customers.
As you might imagine, however, many leaders struggle with getting input from others, whether that input comes from customers, colleagues or employees.
One of my studies, called The Risks Of Ignoring Employee Feedback, studied 27,048 executives, managers and employees. And we discovered, among other things, that very few leaders encourage, or are open to hearing, suggestions for improvement from their employees. In fact, we found that only 24% of people say that their leader always encourages and recognizes suggestions for improvement.
And when employees believe their leader is open to outside input, it not only increase their trust in that leader, it also increases their employee engagement. Our study found that if someone thinks their leader always encourages and recognizes suggestions for improvement, they’re about 12 times more likely to recommend it as a great employer.
Not only do employees want us to get outside input, they want to make sure that the sources we’re going to for insight and information are the relevant ones. They’d like to know that we didn’t just listen to our friends or the people who always agree with us.
Even if employees don’t agree with every facet of the decision we made, they’re much more likely to support our decision if they believe that we actually solicited input from, and listened to, people besides ourselves and our inner circle.
The big mistake that makes leaders look like bad decision-makers is not transparently explaining the data and input that drove their decisions. We need to stop the fundamentally wrong belief that offering the explanations or rationale behind our decisions will undermine our credibility. In fact, the opposite is true.
Employees may not always fully agree with our decisions, but when they understand the data and input we used to arrive at those decisions, they’re significantly more likely to trust us and our process.