Learn to Make Decisions Through Other People's Expertise
As you move up the organizational ladder (get promoted), regardless of your chosen profession, you will eventually be managing business functions that are performing tasks that you have no personal ability to complete. Additionally, because these departments are within your responsibility, you will be required to make high level decisions and approvals regarding their funding, business direction, staffing, and organization. As a result, the sooner that you learn how to make decisions based on the skills and expertise of others, the sooner you will be ready for promotion and the quicker you will be ready to be promoted again.
The idea of making decisions through the expertise of others can be extremely difficult for people working as knowledge workers. This could be an accountant, lawyer, doctor, computer programmer, engineer, or any other profession that requires extensive study, personal commitment, and a deep understanding of a specific professional area. The reason for this difficulty is that highly skilled workers generally make decisions based on their personal training, knowledge, experience, and expertise. As a result, making decisions outside their professional areas can feel risky, unprofessional, and uncomfortable.
If this is you and you have aspirations of moving into a manager or executive role, you must first learn to make decisions through the expertise of others.
If you are currently an individual contributor, you can begin to develop this skill in a number of ways, including the following:
Get involved with a non-profit organization you believe in that is doing good things for the world. Then, volunteer to lead a committee that requires people with various skill sets. As the committee chairperson, you will be providing value to a non-profit organization and you will gain experience making decisions in areas outside your primary expertise in a low risk and forgiving environment.
At the office, volunteer to be on a cross-department committee containing attributes outside your primary expertise. Then, participate in committee decisions. This approach has three primary advantages for you. First, you have the opportunity to participate in decisions made outside your primary business area. Second, this is a great networking opportunity to meet people in other parts of your company. Third, you are showing your manager that you are willing to be a good team player and self starter. Take note that the combination of these three advantages may also help you get promoted.
If you are already in this type of management position and are struggling with making decision in areas you do not understand, the above two suggestions may also work for you. Additionally, you should also consider the following.
Hire people you trust and respect with skills and knowledge that is complementary to yours.
Learn the basics of the areas outside your expertise. This could be done by taking a class, personal research, listening online to webinars, and/or going to industry conferences on the topic. This will allow you to know the common acronyms, major issues, and current trends. This knowledge will potentially give you the background needed to understand your staff's requests and recommendations.
Be willing to ask questions of your staff and others with the goal of understanding the issue at hand. This willingness to learn will not only help you make better decisions today, but it will also help you make better decisions in the future.
If you feel uncomfortable asking your staff, or admitting to them that you do not understand the topic, hire a third party consultant to assist you in understanding the needed topic.
As a final note, given your management style, personal preferences, and need for control, these suggestions may or may not be of value to you. If they are of value, great! If none of these suggestions resonated with you, recognize the importance of this decision making skill, do some personal soul searching, and try to discover solutions that work best for you.
The primary advice and takeaways from today's column is to know that:
The sooner that you learn how to make decisions based on the skills and expertise of others, the sooner you will be ready for promotion.
The two very hard steps in becoming a technical thought leader are: 1) Maximize your technical knowledge and 2) Actively share your knowledge with others.
This blog is an excerpt from my weekly nationally syndicated column with GateHouse News Service. My new columns can be found in GateHouse Media publications throughout the United States.
Until next time, manage well, manage smart, and continue to grow.