Leader Role in Decision-Making Discussion

Leader Role in Decision-Making Discussion

Remember why leaders call meetings? Primarily, they want information or advice or help solving a problem. In other words, input is needed from workers. If it is being done right, members will efficiently use their resources (work information, experience, special skills or knowledge) to arrive at high quality decisions that will be implemented fully. This is a tall order!

How does leader behavior figure in this scheme? Leaders can succeed or fail based on their meeting behavior! An authoritative person who admonishes or lectures a group and then asks for a decision can expect little effort in implementation. Add a little arrogance or insensitivity to the mix and leaders stir up resentment, as well. Guess what happens to implementation efforts! A participative leader who listens and encourages a group to arrive at its own conclusions can expect implementation of decisions without much further ado. Meeting leaders need to decide which results are desired.

Is an authoritative position always wrong? No! When decisions don't require committed action from group members, or when coordination of members' activities is simple and easy, or when decisions have to be made quickly, an authoritative role is appropriate. So don't think that the ONLY way to make decisions is to arrive at consensus! In the situations just mentioned, leaders go and do. However, if quick implementation and good morale are integral to a decision, leaders should use participative styles.

Kurt Lewin (1951) did classic experiments during World War II to discover how to change people's attitudes and behaviors. Good cuts of meat were in short supply, so shoppers were encouraged to buy kidneys and sweetbreads. Those who promised aloud to buy the less desirable cuts carried through their verbal commitment at far greater rates than those who promised privately. Another study asked college students to set goals for their reading and exam scores. Half verbalized their commitment; half did not. At mid-semester, the publicly committed students averaged 86-percent improvement compared to 14-percent improvement of others. Spoken commitment helps to change behavior and attitudes. Further, when consensus is felt in groups, social support for changing is enhanced. This is why group decision making is important to organizations and to leaders.

Gaining Consensus

How do meeting leaders get others to commit verbally to new behaviors? Through consensus! It's defined as group solidarity in sentiment and belief. In practice, distinguishing between consensus and majority rule is sometimes difficult. Majority vote is probably the most common group decision-making procedure used today. Most people consider it democratic since it resembles our election system ”51 percent of the vote wins. The problem is that the other 49 percent may feel a sense of loss and feel compromised. Arguments may occur just for the sake of argument, rather than having a basis in reasoning, and knowing they are in the minority causes some people to withhold their resources from groups. They may be in a position to sabotage implementation as well.

Achieving consensus takes longer, but it is more effective if everyone's contributions are needed for implementation. Even a degree of consensus can be superior to majority vote. In consensus, it is important that everyone in the group feels he or she had a fair chance at influencing the final outcome. This means that sufficient time was allowed for all to state their views, all felt understood , opposite views were heard , and ultimately all will support whatever decision is made. When differences arise, groups will ask for more information, clarify issues, and try for a better outcome.

Group leaders should encourage airing opposing viewpoints and the reasoning and information behind these viewpoints. They must encourage all members to participate, discourage "giving in" to opposing viewpoints just to avoid conflict, and express acceptance of differing viewpoints, especially minority views. The challenge is to get the group to come up with a decision which all can support.Create a sense of gain, not loss! People will feel senses of unity and personal ownership in the decisions made.


(getting all to feel they had a fair chance to influence the outcome)

  • Allow time for all to state their views.

  • Ensure understanding of all views.

  • Encourage opposing viewpoints.

  • Clarify reasoning and information for viewpoints.

  • When differences occur, clarify issues and gather information; try for a better consensus statement.

  • Discourage "giving in" just to avoid conflict.

  • Arrive at a decision all can support.

  • Create a sense of gain, not loss!

Clearly, leader behavior and meeting conduct are important to people in organizations as they carry out decisions that are made. How to ensure that everyone feels heard and viewpoints are stated and clarified? Ask questions!